Updated 11:09 p.m. | While a majority of House Republicans appear ready to support a short-term continuing resolution to keep the government open through Feb. 16, enough Freedom Caucus members remain uncommitted to make passage questionable.
“The votes are not currently there to pass it with just Republicans,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said before a crucial House GOP conference meeting on the topic Tuesday night.
After the meeting and a separate Freedom Caucus gathering, the North Carolina Republican said that view had not changed.
While the 36-member caucus lacked the quorum needed to take an official position on the CR — their rules require 80 percent support — there were enough “no” and “undecided” votes to prevent Republicans from passing it without Democratic support or additional changes, Meadows said. He added that he planned to discuss possible changes with leadership and then continue discussions with his caucus Wednesday.
If passed, the four-week CR that House GOP leaders pitched to their conference Tuesday night would be the fourth stopgap funding measure Congress has deployed since September. With a CR into February, government funding will be operating on autopilot more than a third of the way through fiscal 2018, which began Oct. 1.
GOP leaders intend to whip support for the CR on Wednesday and bring it to the floor Thursday if the votes are there. The current stopgap measure expires Friday.
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A broader agreement on raising the fiscal 2018 spending caps, necessary for an omnibus spending deal, has remained elusive as Republicans have resisted Democrats’ calls for equal increases in defense and nondefense spending.
Democrats have also signaled they will not agree to a deal on spending caps that does not address the status of young undocumented immigrants who could face deportation when the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, ends in March.
Because of inaction on DACA and the spending caps, Democrats have largely opposed the last two CRs and Republicans have supplied the majority of votes. In the House, the few Democrats who ultimately voted for those CRs withheld their votes until Republicans put up enough “yes” votes to pass it on their own.
That is the likely outcome again unless there’s a breakthrough on DACA and the spending caps.
“If we protect the DREAMers in the CR and we memorialize the agreement on caps in the CR, I think Democrats will surely vote for the CR,” House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer said. Absent that, the Maryland Democrat said his party would not be “held hostage” by GOP inaction.
Nevada Rep. Mark Amodei said Speaker Paul D. Ryan told the conference Tuesday night that there’s no Friday deadline on DACA. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy spoke generally about the status of the No. 2 talks, which he said are progressing, according to Amodei.
Other GOP leaders have said they do not expect a DACA deal to materialize this week, and House Republicans seem to understand they’ll need to supply enough of their own votes to pass the CR. Most members leaving the GOP conference meeting predicted that will occur.
“No crystal ball is perfect, but yes, in my judgement, the CR will pass before the week is out,” said Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, a Freedom Caucus member. The defense hawk said he plans to support the CR, noting that it is incumbent on Republicans who support national security to continue government funding.
In addition to extending current funding levels through Feb. 16, the CR would reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years and delay enactment of certain taxes that were part of the 2010 health care law. Specifically, the measure would delay the medical device tax and the Cadillac tax for two years and the health insurance tax for one year, Ways and Means member Erik Paulsen of Minnesota said.
To provide some flexibility for the military, the bill includes a provision allowing the Defense Department to provide funding for missile defense enhancements.
Still, the lack of additional defense funding was a source of consternation at the GOP meeting. Several members, including Freedom Caucus member Jim Jordan of Ohio, spoke in favor of including such funding for the remainder of the fiscal year in the CR, but leadership is unlikely to grant that request given the likelihood it would be filibustered by Senate Democrats.
In December, 44 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus signed a letter to Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressing opposition to a defense-focused “CRomnibus.” That would be enough opposition to doom such a package on the Senate floor.
But the Freedom Caucus during its meeting expressed “overwhelming support” for the proposal to include in the CR a full-year defense appropriation at the level Congress approved in the National Defense Authorization Act as Plan A for getting its support, Meadows said.
The caucus’ Plan B is to suggest defense anomalies like pay raises for service members and funds for aircraft, ship and equipment maintenance, as well as additional “caveats” related to the budget caps and other matters that need to be addressed, he said.
“There was other discussions about a Plan C that I prefer not to get into tonight,” Meadows said.
While Plan A and likely Plan B would be opposed by Senate Democrats, whose votes are key to passage of the CR in that chamber, Meadows suggested it’s a fight House Republicans need to have.
“The conference will be caught between being pragmatic and what they believe the Senate will take and really sticking with a plan that the president and our leadership embraced early on, and that’s funding our military without increasing the nondefense discretionary at levels that are unacceptable to conservatives,” he said. “Anything that we would pass would have to be with the intestinal fortitude to make sure that it gets debated and voted on in the Senate and hopefully pass.”
While “no one wants a shutdown,” Meadows said, another CR “doesn't change the debate.” The Freedom Caucus’s position on defense spending is in line with other defense hawks in the conference who want to see increased funding for the military, he said.
“Any differences between the defense hawks and the Freedom Caucus are more tactical in nature than strategic,” Meadows said.
Many members also used the conference meeting to push for a vote on the immigration bill released last week by Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, suggesting passage of the conservative measure would increase Republicans’ leverage in the DACA negotiations.
Freedom Caucus member Raúl R. Labrador, one of the chief co-authors of the Goodlatte bill, said members are not linking the immigration measure to the CR given different deadlines on the two issues. However, he said it’s important for leadership to outline the strategy on DACA and noted that many House Republicans want to vote on their bill.
“It was just introduced,” the Idaho Republican said when asked if the measure had enough support for a floor vote. “If leadership gets their act together and starts whipping this bill, we’ll get to 218 easily.”
The Freedom Caucus also discussed its support for the Goodlatte bill and wanting a vote on the measure as soon as possible but Meadows said that is separate from the requests on the CR.
Asked about their leverage on getting a vote on that if not on the CR, Meadows said it was about “making sure that a majority of the majority” in the House supports an immigration bill.
On all the lingering issues, House Republicans pushed for positions that would likely set up conflict with the Senate. Members said they continue to feel frustrated that the Senate often jams the House with their preferred solution.
Jennifer Shutt, Kellie Mejdrich, Mary Ellen McIntire and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.