Ryan Herds Divided GOP on Spending With Little Help From Trump

Updated on
  • House GOP seeks to fund government without help from Democrats
  • Democrats want bill to protect young, undocumented immigrants

GOP Rep. Jordan Says First Priority Is to 'Fund Our Troops'

Speaker Paul Ryan is once again herding the fractious Republican House majority toward passage of a temporary government funding plan that satisfies no one and leaves Democrats fuming.

And once again Ryan is putting off divisive issues, especially immigration, that will require political cover from an often inconsistent partner: President Donald Trump.

The funding plan heading toward a House vote as soon as Thursday would keep the government operating through Feb. 16. But after that, Congress will need to confront deep-seated differences to agree on new budget limits, immigration legislation and raising the federal debt ceiling.

Complicating matters ahead of the vote, Trump criticized a key part of the House GOP plan, tweeting that funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program should be part of a long-term "solution," not a short-term government funding extension. House Republicans included a six-year extension of the program in their proposed short-term spending bill, and some plan to use the issue to wield Democrats’ "no" votes against them. The No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, said on Fox News he wasn’t "sure what the president means" by the tweet.

While Republican leaders can likely work through the budget and debt ceiling without White House backup, Ryan has a limited supply of goodwill built up from winning passage of tax legislation last month. He has made clear that when it comes to the polarizing immigration issue, Trump needs to make the first move.

Democrats are demanding protection for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children as part of a spending bill. Trump decided in September to end an Obama-era initiative that shielded them from deportation, effective in March. The U.S. counts 690,000 people currently enrolled in the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

“We will not bring a DACA bill that the president doesn’t support,” Ryan said Wednesday. “It’s got to be bipartisan and the president has to support this for this to occur.”

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Trump wants funding for a border wall and Republicans have said they support various types of border-security enhancements. But efforts to forge an agreement with Democrats on immigration were thrown into turmoil after the president was reported to ask lawmakers why the U.S. accepts immigrants from “shithole countries” like Haiti, El Salvador and African nations rather than places like Norway.

Even under Trump’s inconsistent political cover, Ryan’s ability to work with Democrats on one of the most controversial issues in American politics without alienating his far-right members will determine how ambitious he can make his 2018 agenda, which includes overhauling federal programs for the poor, sick and elderly. It could also determine how long Ryan stays in Washington amid retirement rumors.

House Republican vote counters say they have enough Republican support to fund the government past Friday without needing help from Democrats. However, there has not been any public progress on a bipartisan, House-Senate deal to raise budget caps for defense and non-defense spending, needed to begin allocating federal dollars for the rest of the fiscal year.

For that discussion to move forward, Democrats are insisting on immigration legislation. Deputy leaders for each party in the House and Senate are now leading that negotiation. Trump rejected a bipartisan immigration proposal last week.

Needing Democratic support for legislation while trying to satisfy Republicans who promised voters they wouldn’t compromise their conservative principles helped end the tenure of Ryan’s predecessor, Ohio Republican John Boehner, in 2015. Boehner, a plain-spoken pragmatist, was often attacked by conservatives in his party who said he was too willing to cut deals with the opposing party, even though he was working with a Democratic president.

Ryan’s Future

Ryan promised to do things differently and allow more input from rank-and-file members. The stakes are high this year as lawmakers prepare to campaign on their record under an unpopular president.

It’s not clear how long Ryan wants to remain speaker. Last month, Politico reported that Ryan told confidants this will be his final term in the job. Ryan publicly dismissed the article. He said last week that he and his wife would discuss whether he’ll run for his House seat again, which he described as a spring ritual in election years.

Many of the issues in play this week have been lingering since the beginning of this fiscal year in October. Last month, it seemed that Ryan would follow the urging of conservatives and hold a vote on a bill to increase the military’s budget for the rest of the fiscal year while temporarily funding all other government programs at current levels.

Ryan pulled back from this plan -- in the two days between passing tax cuts and Congress’s holiday recess -- amid resistance in the Senate, where Republicans don’t have a large enough majority to cut off debate and force a vote.

“The American people elected us to fund defense and hold the line on non-defense spending," said Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican and one of the founders of the Freedom Caucus. “We had a little difference in opinion on a lot of things with our leadership’s decisions last month.”

‘Grow Up’

Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania who is chairman of an appropriations subcommittee, said some of his GOP colleagues need to “grow up” and recognize that a 60-vote threshold for passage of most legislation in the Senate forces compromise from a majority party that holds just 51 seats.

“Leadership has no choice but to reach a deal,” Dent said. “We need a bipartisan, bicameral agreement. We’re going to raise defense spending, the price is going to be that non-defense goes up as well.”

Dave Brat, a Virginia Republican and also a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said Ryan is making the right call by seeking to keep the government open, but he and other conservatives want assurances that they’re not going to give Democrats and the Senate too much leverage on immigration.

“Paul Ryan has been doing his job on this, he’s focused on 218” votes needed to pass the spending bill, Brat said. “The problem going forward is what will happen with immigration.”

Republicans said Ryan did a good job navigating competing demands over December’s tax legislation. Yet many Republicans say it will continue to be a challenge to balance various GOP factions, and strong leadership and lawmaker participation.

“We trust him to make play calls to some degree, that’s part of a conference of people electing a leader or a speaker,” said Brian Mast, a Florida Republican. “Even if we’re ideologically aligned, we still have different ideas of perfect on any given issue. If I only get what’s perfect for me, I’d never vote ’yes’ on anything.

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