With Speaker Paul D. Ryan noncommittal on how House Republicans should fund the government beyond Sept. 30, GOP factions head into a Friday conference meeting armed with ideas that could further muddle the path toward consensus.
The primary question is how long Congress should extend current funding. GOP members are divided over whether to punt the matter into a lame-duck session in December or into March 2017, after a new Congress and administration will have had time to settle in.
While Congress could simply pass a sweeping continuing resolution that would extend fiscal 2016 funding levels across the government, some members are pushing for a deal that would finalize one or more individual appropriations bills and use a CR for the remaining agencies.
The views vary broadly, even for the fractious GOP conference, providing leadership with the difficult task of parceling through the hodgepodge of ideas to find a strategy that a majority of Republicans will support. There’s also the question of whether to add supplemental funding for anti-Zika efforts and Louisiana flooding relief aid.
“There’s a lot of conflicting conundrums,” Arizona Rep. Trent Franks said.
Ahead of the conference meeting, President Barack Obama invited the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate to the White House for a Monday afternoon meeting to discuss the administration’s priorities for the September session, according to multiple sources. A continuing resolution is expected to be the top agenda item.
Momentum seems to be building among House Republicans for breaking up individual appropriations bills into small packages known as “minibuses,” with the first to be possibly coupled with a CR this month.
Congress has employed this approach in past years to move spending measures through both chambers. However, the more common strategy in recent years, including last December’s fiscal 2016 spending deal, has been to pass an “omnibus” measure lumping all 12 individual spending bills together.
Either strategy at this point will involve some sort of CR extending fiscal 2016 funding that will buy appropriators more time to finish negotiating fiscal 2017 spending levels.
House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers told Roll Call on Tuesday that it’s possible the House may opt to move a minibus along with a CR before the end of September, but that no decisions would be made until after the conference discussion Friday.
On Thursday, Rogers signaled that was the direction he wants to go as he thanked Appropriations Committee staff at a reception to unveil his portrait in the panel’s hearing room.
“With the CR coming up, and the minibuses we hope to pass, we’re going to be working day and night,” said Rogers, whose six-year term as Appropriations chairman is drawing to a close.
Oklahoma GOP Rep. Tom Cole, an appropriator, on Wednesday also spoke of the leadership interest in moving minibuses instead of one big omnibus bill.
The minibus strategy is picking up steam, especially among Republican members who want to see the entire fiscal 2017 appropriations process completed by the end of December.
“I would try to add amend as many appropriations bills into the CR as possible, and so turn it into a CR/minibus, minibus/CR, send it to the Senate and lower that number for the end of the year,” Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent said.
One bill that could easily be finalized by Sept. 30 as part of a larger government funding package is the Military Construction-VA appropriations measure, said Dent, who chairs the appropriations subcommittee overseeing those accounts.
The House and Senate have both passed versions of the Military Construction-VA measure and reconciled their differences in a conference committee. However, a final bill has yet to make it to the president’s desk because it has been used as the vehicle to fund a response to the Zika virus outbreak, which Democrats and Republicans are still arguing about.
Dent, like most appropriators, is of the opinion that any CR enacted this month should not punt spending beyond December.
But even some conservatives who oppose a lame-duck funding deadline say they would like to see the appropriations bills packaged as minibuses. Republican Study Committee Chairman Bill Flores plans to advocate for those positions during Friday’s conference.
“With a minibus, you get a better chance to group similar spending bills together,” the Texas Republican said.
That would allow the House to group funding for national security, which is currently spread across four or five different bills covering multiple agencies, into a single measure, Flores said.
Flores and Franks both said they’d like to see a minibus that includes defense spending passed with a CR by the end of September. But they prefer the CR stretch into 2017, so the remaining negotiations are not rushed through the lame-duck session in December.
“In terms of us planning, projecting what’s going to happen in November, if [Hillary] Clinton becomes president, national security is a thing of the past and so is the Constitution, so our focus should be there,” said Franks, who is a member of the study committee and the more conservative House Freedom Caucus.
Despite some conservatives’ interest in a defense minibus, Freedom Caucus founding member Mick Mulvaney predicted that strategy won’t fly with a lot of conservatives, especially if a CR still expires in the lame duck session.
“An omnibus broken up until several small minibuses is still an omnibus,” the South Carolina Republican said, explaining that it’s less about strategy than it is about optics.
House Republicans are in a tough position since they seem unlikely to quickly coalesce around an idea, while Senate Republicans are already pushing forward with a plan to pass a CR that would extend funding through December 9.
“We can’t ignore where the Senate is directionally on this, but we can try to influence it,” Flores said.
But the House will have to act quickly if it wants to influence the final deal.
“If the House dithers, the Senate will jam us,” Dent said.
That’s exactly what is likely to happen, Mulvaney predicted.
“My preference is we do a long-term CR into next year,” he said. “That’s never, ever going to happen. We’re going to do whatever the Senate wants to do.”
Ryan told reporters Thursday that he would not push the Senate proposal or any other predetermined outcome on his conference.
“We want to talk as a family, a team, first before we proceed with any kind of plan to go forward,” the Wisconsin Republican said.
The speaker, however, is ultimately likely to side with appropriators who want to wrap up negotiations over fiscal 2017 spending by mid-December. Ryan suggested as much in an interview with Janesville, Wis., radio station WBEL on Tuesday, saying the House would “negotiate the individual spending bills throughout the fall.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday also indicated a preference for wrapping up fiscal 2017 spending negotiations this year. He told reporters that extending the deadline into December would likely give Congress enough time to complete the appropriations process.
Niels Lesniewski, John T. Bennett and Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.