House Republicans are working on a multistep government funding strategy that involves a two-week stopgap measure to keep the lights on beyond Dec. 8 and fully funding defense by Christmas.
No final decisions have been made but the idea GOP leaders have discussed with key conference members is to stick to the plan to pass a continuing resolution through Dec. 22.
They then hope to pass a spending bill that would fund defense-related agencies through the end of fiscal 2018 and include another short-term CR for the remaining agencies, likely sometime into mid-to-late January, according to multiple members who participated in a Tuesday afternoon strategy meeting in Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s office. House Republicans hope to next come up with an omnibus bill for nondefense agencies to cover the remainder of fiscal 2018.
The plan, which members stressed is not finalized, would rely on an increase in the sequestration spending cap for defense. It’s unclear whether Republicans plan to move separate legislation to bust the defense cap or just include the needed language in the combination defense-CR.
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It’s also unclear whether they would agree to include any increase in domestic, or nondefense discretionary, spending to try appease Democrats, but that does not appear to be part of the current thinking.
Democrats on board?
House Republicans can pass a spending bill without Democrats if they get 218 of their members to support it, but Senate Republicans cannot. A minimum of eight Democrats will be needed to pass any spending bill in that chamber.
“You can either vote to fund these guys or you guys can strip away [funding] in a very tense time with what’s going on in the Korea peninsula,” Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker said of the choice Senate Democrats will face. “So we think it’s not just a matter of jamming them, it’s a matter of doing the right thing.”
The North Carolina Republican said Senate Democrats such as Missouri’s Claire McCaskill who represent states with a military presence should be inclined to support an increase in defense spending.
If that’s not enough — especially considering Senate Democrats have been pushing for an equal increase in the defense and nondefense caps — Republicans are likely to try to add some additional sweeteners.
“The only reason why there may be a willingness to separate out defense … is if you attached a few other things that would certainly make it very difficult to vote against for Democrats in the Senate,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said.
Asked if the disaster supplemental is one possible attachment, Meadows raised his eyes but did not answer.
“I think it would be inappropriate to get too much into the details,” the North Carolina Republican said.
Likewise, Freedom Caucus member Jim Jordan declined to specify the strategy for getting Senate Democrats on board.
“I’ll answer that tomorrow,” the Ohio Republican said.
Meadows and Jordan plan to brief the Freedom Caucus on Wednesday morning on the strategy discussed in the leadership meeting. Meadows said he’s not expecting the caucus to take an official position but he expects there will be a “robust discussion” on tactics and strategy.
“I can tell you right now that there would have to be some very iron-clad commitments on behalf of leadership on how this would be different from the last five years,” Meadows said before Tuesday’s leadership meeting. “When we look at short-term CRs, generally, it doesn’t produce a different result.”
After the meeting, Meadows said there was “no agreement yet.”
Walker, who also participated in the leadership meeting, is continuing conversations with RSC members to see what they can support. They’ve got a few asks related to mandatory spending offsets they’d like to see included in legislation that would bust the spending caps.
House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry declined to reveal any details of plans discussed during the leadership meeting but continued to express support for fully funding defense as soon as possible.
“A CR hurts the military, does damage to the military every single day,” the Texas Republican said, adding, “Defense is too important to use as a political football.”
Senate Republicans appear to be waiting on their House counterparts to come up with a strategy before they weigh in on their plans for funding the government after the two-week stopgap measure. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed a preference for a Dec. 22 CR over a Dec. 30 one. House conservatives have pushed for the latter but it is likely off the table.
Ryan, McConnell, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer are scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump on Thursday to discuss government funding and other year-end matters.
Jennifer Shutt, Patrick Kelley and Joe Williams contributed to this report.