Policy

GOP Dumps Full-Year Defense Plan, CR Incoming

Friday deadline or government shuts down

From left, incoming House Appropriations Committee chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talk as the 115th Congress convenes on Jan. 3. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Republican leaders are abandoning plans to pass a full-year defense appropriations measure by the end of the week and will instead use a continuing resolution to keep the military and other government agencies funded through Jan. 19, a GOP aide confirmed.

Leadership is currently planning separate votes on the CR, a disaster relief supplemental vote and reauthorization of government surveillance powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The plan, however, is not finalized. The GOP conference will huddle at 5 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the path forward, and a certain level of sign off will likely be needed before GOP leaders proceed. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy declined to detail the spending bill until after the GOP conference meeting.

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The change in strategy comes after conservatives balked at the release of an $81 billion disaster supplemental, a massive amount that is not offset and is nearly double the $44 billion the administration requested.

However, conservatives and defense hawks are also expected to object to a clean CR that doesn’t increase defense spending. That means GOP leaders are likely banking on Democrats to help pass the CR, the supplemental and the FISA reauthorization given significant GOP defections are likely on all three measures.

The current CR expires Dec. 22, so a new spending bill must be passed by the end of Friday to prevent a partial government shutdown.

“The government funding bill continues to make progress and remains fluid based on the will of the conference, but funding the military for a full year appears to be off the table with a short-term funding option being the most probable path now being considered," House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said.

Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker said the latest discussions have been around a continuing resolution for all agencies, including the Pentagon, through Jan. 19. While that plan is not set in stone, he said such a stopgap would include more than a dozen defense anomalies, a provision related to the Children’s Health Insurance Program and funding for a private care access program for veterans known as the Veterans Choice Program.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles E. Schumer said Democrats are not on board with the defense anomalies being discussed.

"From what we've been told, the previous anomalies are just a way of getting around the defense cap and we will not accept that," the New York Democrat said.

In addition to the plan on the spending bill, Republicans are still trying to figure out how to reauthorize government surveillance powers. McCarthy met with Meadows, Freedom Caucus member Jim Jordan, Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes and Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy to discuss the FISA reauthorization Wednesday afternoon but they left the meeting without a deal.

"There is very little chance that a long-term FISA reauthorization has the support of the overall conference," Meadows said.

Some Republicans have objected to the FISA bill the Intelligence Committee reported out because they feel it allows unwarranted spying on Americans.

Nunes acknowledged that bill is dead “for now,” but said, “It could be because of timing, not because of the bill.”

Given the approaching deadline a short-term reauthorization appears the most likely option. McCarthy alluded to that being an option as he noted he doesn’t expect an issue passing a FISA reauthorization “if everybody comes to an agreement, especially if it ends up being a little short term thing.”

Nunes said he prefers a long-term FISA reauthorization but he’s fine with anything that extends the program.

"It has to be worked out between all the leaders, Democrats and Republicans," he said.

Most rank-and-file members seemed unaware of the plan Wednesday and were waiting on the conference meeting for details.

“It’s yet to be determined what we’ll be voting on tomorrow,” Rep. Charlie Dent said. “It sounds like they are going back to the drawing board on this one.”

The Pennsylvania Republican said he hopes the government doesn’t shut down the same week they Republicans passed a rewrite of the tax code.

“I can’t think of a bigger act of political malpractice after a successful tax reform vote than to shut the government down,” he said. “Talk about stepping on your own message. How dumb would that be? But anything is possible around here. This is Congress .”

Paul Krawzak, Joe Williams and Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.

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