House Republicans are continuing their internal battle over the details of a short-term spending bill amid growing pressure to avoid a pre-election showdown with the Senate over legislation needed to keep the government from shutting down at the end of the month.
Congress will need to pass a short-term spending bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 to keep the government open, but House Republicans have been unable to agree on how long a stop-gap should last. More than 50 GOP members spoke at a closed-door meeting in the basement of the Capitol on Friday without the party without any consensus emerging despite increasing pressure to reach a deal, according to sources in the room.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced Wednesday that he is prepared next week to move a CR that would keep the government open through Dec. 9. The Senate could immediately adjourn once that bill passes, forcing the House to either accept the legislation or take the blame for a shutdown. That scenario is unacceptable to the vast majority of House Republicans.
“In essence we have one constitutional thing we need to do and that is pass appropriations bills,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.).
Democrats, most moderate Republicans and defense hawks favor a short-term funding bill that would bring lawmakers back to Washington following the election to negotiate long-term spending bills that would fully fund government operations through next September.
House conservatives have generally rejected that idea, arguing that negotiating a final year-end funding package during the post-election “lame-duck” session will lead to a massive package filled with higher spending and special interests handouts. They are advocating for passing a stop-gap bill this month that would last into next year, leaving final spending negotiations to a new Congress and president.
House Appropriations Chairman Haarold Rogers (R-Ky.) told reporters he is confident that the short-term strategy will win out. He is pushing for legislation that would pair the CR with a $1.1 billion in funding to fight the spread of the Zika virus, another top priority. Rogers said he is confident that legislation could pass with the support of moderate Republicans, Democrats and defense hawks who want to ensure a long-term military funding bill passes in December.
“A CR until March would do severe damage to our military capabilities and that’s paramount,” Rogers said. “The bottom line is to pass a CR until the middle of December.”
Rogers’ plan would allow members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees to work out a series of small spending packages, known as minibuses, that would fund individual government programs for the remainder of the fiscal year. Leaders have said they are eager to reach any agreement that allows them to avoid a one. massive year-end spending bill.
Those hopes could be dashed if GOP infighting persists past next week. Senate leaders are eager to get out of town so the 22 GOP senators up for re-election can return home to campaign ahead of the November election. A speedy resolution would also allow Senate leaders to try and force the House to accept whatever spending resolution can pass the Senate, potentially avoiding another ugly intra-party budget fight.
The most optimistic timeline could have senators finishing up their work by late next week, more than two weeks before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. Many House Republicans worry that the constant infighting will cost them the chance to have any sway over the details of the short-term bill.
“We can have these circular firing squad debates until the cows come home but we are going to end up eating what the Senate sends us,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.).
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) told reporters on Thursday that he thinks the Senate could easily attach the Zika provision to McConnell’s proposed spending bill and pass the legislation by the end of next week.
“[It’s a] very good suggestion.” Wicker said. “I think we have to ask ourselves what realistically can be accomplished between now and our departure for the election.”
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said he is confident the Senate will reach an agreement on the plan to pair Zika funding with the CR but he was less optimistic about wrapping up by Sept. 16.
“I think our hope is we can take up the continuing resolution next week and pass it and send it to the House and that could take place by the end of next week,” Cornyn said. “It would take all of the stars aligning in a perfect way with no intervening influence.”
That idea frustrates House Conservatives who had hoped to have more influence over any stop-gap bill.
“It certainly is a concern if we’re not going to be here and able to go back and forth,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.). “Then it becomes an either-or situation and I don’t think any of us want a shutdown.”
Some conservatives have considered the possibility of accepting policy concessions in exchange for their votes on a CR. Members of the Republican Study Committee met Thursday to discuss options for a spending bill. Members discussed adding a provision that would delay plans for the U.S. government to give up control over a global nonprofit that oversees the internet domain system. The government is scheduled to relinquish control of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) on Oct. 1 and conservatives, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), are pushing Congress to hold off on those plans.
RSC Chairman Bill Flores (R-Tex.) said Thursday that he had been in talks with Cruz about the issue and they both support a delay. Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) said RSC members discussed the ICANN provision as well as a measure that would would effectively halt the the resettlement of refugees from Iraq and Syria in the United States.
“There was some discussion about if we want to be effective during this time that that would be the kind of thing that would be considered,” Walker said. “I think there was some favorability to that.”