Now that Republicans have finished patting themselves on the back for passing the first comprehensive tax reform bill in 31 years, and which hopes to stimulate the economy my rewarding those least likely to spend...
... members of Congress are shaking off their hangovers and confronting the reality that that the leadership is still nowhere near a consensus on the continuing resolution package that must be passed by midnight Friday (or early morning Saturday at the latest) to avert a holiday shutdown.
Initially, Republicans were planning to include a separate authorization that would keep the Pentagon funded through September, but that idea was scrapped after the leadership discovered the bill would be dead-on-arrival in the Senate, where Republicans must win at least eight Democratic votes to circumvent a filibuster. House Speaker Paul Ryan said earlier this week that Republicans would attach an $81 billion disaster-relief aid package to the CR, thereby combining two legislative priorities into one. But that plan has also been abandoned.
Now, the leadership is scrambling to whip up enough votes to push the CR through the Senate. According to the Hill, Speaker Paul Ryan met with Mark Meadows, the leader of the Freedom Caucus, several members of his faction last night, and managed to flip several ‘no’ votes to ‘yes’ after promising to reauthorize a controversial surveillance program that was due to expire. Still, some conservative Republicans are digging in their heels and insisting that the defense spending measures must be included in the final bill - or else.
Following the meeting with Meadows, Republicans hammered out a draft of the bill during a conference late Wednesday. In its present form, the CR would delay cuts to defense and nondefense spending, reauthorize the controversial surveillance program, and include funding for a popular children’s health-insurance program, per Bloomberg.
House leaders released a plan late Wednesday that would maintain funding for government operations through Jan. 19 and delay cuts to defense and non-defense spending known as sequestration. It includes extra funds for some Pentagon expenses and health programs, as well as $2.85 billion to keep the Children’s Health Insurance Program running through March, with some conditions.
The government surveillance activities authorized by a section of the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act would be reauthorized until just Jan. 19, rather than the full reauthorization sought by the Justice Department....The last provision of the bill would waive the automatic cuts to some mandatory federal programs, which would kick in because of the deficit impact of the tax overhaul passed this week. That spending cut trigger is known as PAYGO, for pay-as-you-go, and waiving it would make it easier for President Donald Trump to sign the tax legislation passed this week before the start of 2018.
Still, the message from conservative Republicans is clear: Defense spending or bust.
Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a member of both the Freedom Caucus and the Armed Services Committee, said he wants to force GOP leaders to send the Senate a long-term extension of defense spending. “We’re doing our troops a real disservice. … I think it’s going to take a couple volleys. I don’t think this thing will whip out to where the votes are there for what leadership’s proposing,” he told reporters Wednesday evening.
“So I think us - and you - are in for a long week. I don’t expect to get out of here until Friday or Saturday," he added.
Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he was "bitterly disappointed" and would oppose a stopgap bill that didn't fund defense programs through the year.
Freedom Caucus member Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) also said he was a “lean no."
In one example of how pro-defense Republicans often clash with their libertarian-leaning colleagues, some Republican members say the surveillance program extension that was added to win the votes of several armed-services committee members is, ironically, a nonstarter for skeptics of the American security state.
Meanwhile, some conservatives were also concerned that the CR includes language to temporarily extend a surveillance program authorized by section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). “If they took [the] FISA extension off the CR, I would hold my nose and vote for it,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), another member of the Freedom Caucus.
Meadows, who wants to see long-term reforms to the spying program, said he secured a commitment from leadership that there would eventually be a standalone vote on a long-term FISA reauthorization and that his group would be allowed to offer requested amendments.
To be sure, some Republicans were more amendable to compromise because they didn’t want the party to squander the goodwill generated by its monumental victory on tax reform. One Republican Rep went so far as to ask: "Is this really the hill we’re going to die on?" - referring, of course, to the controversy surrounding defense spending.
“I think there are a lot of people who are going to spend their time tonight really thinking about whether or not this is the hill we’re going to die on,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla), a member of HASC, said coming out of Ryan's office. “We just had this great moment on tax reform."
“I think they’re going to get the votes,” he added.
In the House, the CR will likely face unanimous Democratic opposition because it doesn’t address a host of Democratic priorities, including immigration, money for the opioid crisis and a boost for non-defense spending caps.
Furthermore, Republicans definitely don’t have the votes to counter a filibuster in the Senate. And with defense hawks and conservative lawmakers joining together in opposition, it’s unlikely the CR in its current form could even pass the House.
So with the clock running out, the House Rules Committee is set to meet early Thursday morning to prepare both the CR and the disaster relief bill for floor votes later in the day.
But given the sheer number of competing interests needing to be squared, it’s likely that an eventual vote on the CR will go down to the wire. Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have repeatedly promised that a Christmas shutdown will be averted, even if the political brinksmanship must continue into the early hours of Saturday morning, or even beyond...
At this point, it’s still not clear why Ryan and McConnell are so confident. President Donald Trump has reportedly mused that a shutdown could benefit Republicans as voters would blame Democrats for opposing the essential funding bill.