politics

House GOP Pushes Plan to Avert Shutdown Without Democratic Support

Updated on
  • Stopgap spending plan would keep government open until Feb. 16
  • Senate Democrats face decision on holding firm on immigration
Bloomberg’s Jodi Schneider reports on a possible U.S. government shutdown.

House Republican leaders are pressing ahead with a plan to avoid a shutdown by temporarily funding the government for four more weeks but shutting out Democrats and their demands for a deal on immigration.

Speaker Paul Ryan and his leadership team were lining up support among House Republicans on Wednesday for a stopgap spending bill to keep the government operating through Feb. 16, setting up a likely vote in the House Thursday.

The bill would also extend the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years, and -- in a bid for votes from chamber conservatives -- delay unpopular taxes on high-end health insurance and medical devices for two years while putting off a tax on health insurance providers by one year. Leaders may tweak the plan more to win over a handful of conservative holdouts pushing for more military spending by including a pay raise for service members.

President Donald Trump will support the House leadership plan for temporary funding, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, giving Ryan some additional political clout to draw in any reluctant conservatives. But she said the White House would prefer a long-term budget deal followed by an immigration deal.

“The president certainly doesn’t want a shutdown,” she told reporters at the White House. Democrats will be to blame if it happens, she added.

“It takes 60 votes and Republicans don’t have 60 votes” in the Senate, she said.

Ryan is gambling that enough Democrats in the Senate will go along. The bill ignores the increasingly bitter immigration debate and Democratic attempts to address the plight of undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children. It also shelves for now bipartisan attempts to produce a long-term spending bill that raises budget caps for defense and non-defense spending.

“We’re going to send it over to the Senate and the Senate Democrats will have to decide” whether they are willing to shut down the government over their demands, Republican Representative Jason Lewis of Minnesota said.

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Although the CHIP funding was included as an incentive for Democrats, Ryan probably will have to rely solely on Republican votes to get the measure through the House.

“No Democrats are going to vote for it,” Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky said Wednesday after a meeting of House Democrats, where Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged opposition.

Even among Republicans there was “grumbling," Idaho Republican Representative Mike Simpson said. “None of us like to be in this position,” Simpson said, adding that he plans to vote for the measure and expects it to have enough GOP support to pass the House.

Ryan on Wednesday sought to tie this week’s spending deadline to funding for the children’s insurance program and the military, and blamed Democrats for holding those priorities hostage to demand legal protections for some undocumented immigrants. He also accused Pelosi of holding back her members who wanted to vote with Republicans for previous stopgap measures to keep the government open.

“It’s baffling to me that Democrats would be willing to block military funding for unrelated issues,” Ryan said. "Cool heads hopefully will prevail."

Brinkmanship

The plan amounts to election-year brinkmanship by Ryan and his leadership team that counts on enough Senate Democrats being concerned about how a shutdown would look to voters as their campaigns get under way in a few months.

Democratic Senator Chris Coons, of Delaware, told MSNBC on Wednesday that he is “gravely concerned” that Trump threw a bipartisan compromise on immigration out the door and that’s made it “far more difficult” to keep the government funded. A deal “can only happen with presidential leadership,” Coons said, but Trump has been “jerking the wheel of the bus of our nation.”

Republicans are at least nine votes shy of the 60 needed to advance a bill. While most Senate Democrats have said they want to see progress on an immigration deal before backing another stopgap funding bill, several on Tuesday weren’t willing to say they were ready to close national parks and government services to get it done.

Easing Concerns

Veteran lawmaker Hal Rogers said that, before a Tuesday night meeting of House Republicans where the funding plan was presented, he had been concerned about the possibility of a shutdown, but was less so afterward.

“I think this bill will get the support of a large number of Republicans and some Democrats," the Kentucky Republican said. “You are never out of the woods when Congress is in session but I’m much less concerned."

Key support came from Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker, whose conservative group includes about 170 members. He said he dislikes such temporary measures but is inclined to support this one because time is running out.

Strategic Position

“That being said, it puts us in a good strategic position," he said, explaining that extending the CHIP program would cut off a Democratic line of attack that Republicans were denying health care funding for children in low-income families, which had been held up for months.

The restive House Freedom Caucus made a bid Tuesday to have a full-year defense spending bill inserted into the stopgap but appeared to be rebuffed.

The conservative group’s chairman, North Carolina Representative Mark Meadows, said there is a lot of support for attaching a full defense bill. He called attaching a delay to the Obamacare tax provisions a "gimmick.”

"I don’t see how this puts us in a different place than we were put after we passed the last" short-term spending bill, he said, adding that he planned to present alternative proposals to the House leadership.

A number of centrist Senate Democrats late Tuesday wouldn’t say how they might vote and said they’re waiting for events to unfold first, including Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. Another Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, said he won’t vote against a stopgap because he won’t let the government shut down.

“I’ve said all along I’m not going to vote to shut down the government,” Manchin said.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled he wants to get a stopgap funding bill settled and leave more difficult negotiations for later.

“By now it is clear that we are not yet ready to move ahead on a major agreement on long-term funding for our armed forces or on immigration,” McConnell said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “Compromise solutions are not out of reach,” but for now Congress must keep the government open.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused Republicans of refusing to negotiate.

“It is the intransigence of so many who say don’t talk, don’t negotiate, it’s my way or the highway” that has led to this point, said Schumer of New York. Democrats have given ground on immigration, he said, and a deal is within reach.

Senators leading bipartisan talks on an immigration plan Wednesday will introduce a measure that reflects ideas rejected by Trump last Thursday in the Oval Office. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina argue their plan offers the best path that could break the impasse on the issue and help drive a deal for a broader spending deal.

— With assistance by Margaret Talev, Yueqi Yang, Justin Sink, and Toluse Olorunnipa

(Updates with White House press secretary’s remarks beginning in fourth paragraph.)
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