Short-term spend­ing deal eyed again

GOP aims to avoid an­other shut­down, but di­vi­sions re­main


white sul­phur springs, — With a shut­down dead­line loom­ing Feb. 8 and no long-term deal at hand, con­gres­sional Repub­li­can lead­ers said Thurs­day they will have to pass yet an­other short-term spend­ing bill next week to keep the gov­ern­ment open.

House GOP lead­ers are eye­ing a spend­ing bill through March 22, aides said, though that date could change. It would have to pass early next week, as gov­ern­ment fund­ing is set to ex­pire at the end of next Thurs­day. With­out a new fund­ing agree­ment, the gov­ern­ment would shut down, as it did for three days in Jan­uary.

Yet at­tempts to reach a longert­erm deal have fal­tered amid a larger dis­pute over im­mi­gra­tion and dis­agree­ment be­tween the two par­ties about spend­ing lev­els, as well as re­luc­tance among some con­ser­va­tives to sign off on mas­sive new gov­ern­ment spend­ing in an elec­tion year. The three­day par­tial shut­down late last month was pre­cip­i­tated by Se­nate Democrats’ de­mands for pro­tec­tions for un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants brought to the United States as chil­dren, called “dream­ers,” an is­sue that re­mains un­re­solved.

As Repub­li­cans gath­ered at the Green­brier re­sort in West Vir­ginia for their an­nual re­treat, Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mc­Connell (Ky.) in­sisted the gov­ern­ment would stay open.

“I don’t think we’ll see a threat­ened gov­ern­ment shut­down again over this sub­ject,” he said. “One of my fa­vorite old Ken­tucky coun­try say­ings is ‘ There’s no ed­u­ca­tion in the sec­ond kick of a mule,’ so I think there’ll be a new level of se­ri­ous­ness here in try­ing to re­solve these is­sues.”

Even so, it seemed un­likely that House and Se­nate ne­go­tia­tors would be able to strike the bi­par­ti­san, two-year bud­get deal they are striv­ing for ahead of Feb. 8. Even if they do, law­mak­ers would need weeks to turn agreed-upon fig­ures into com­plete spend­ing bills for all the agen­cies of gov­ern­ment.

Next week’s stop­gap leg­is­la­tion would be the fifth short-term “con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion” of this fis­cal year, a sit­u­a­tion that is caus­ing frus­tra­tion and fin­ger­point­ing on all sides. That in­cludes within GOP ranks, which could jeop­ar­dize pas­sage of the res­o­lu­tion as con­ser­va­tive law­mak­ers and de­fense hawks both threat­ened Thurs­day to with­hold their votes.

Rep. Mark Mead­ows (R-N.C.), chair­man of the con­ser­va­tive House Free­dom Cau­cus, said his group might not sup­port an­other short-term spend­ing bill with­out prom­ises of ac­tion on higher mil­i­tary spend­ing lev­els and other is­sues.

“I don’t see the prob­a­bil­ity of the Free­dom Cau­cus sup­port­ing a fifth CR with­out sub­stan­tial changes by Feb. 8 un­less we see dra­matic changes,” Mead­ows told re­porters. “We’ve had the land of promise for four times now on CRs. It’s time to put some real com­mit­ment to the ef­fort be­fore a fifth CR.”

De­fense hawks in the House have grown in­creas­ingly frus­trated with the mul­ti­ple short-term spend­ing bills, con­tend­ing that they threaten mil­i­tary readi­ness and cost lives, since the Pen­tagon is not get­ting the money it needs.

Rep. Mac Thorn­berry (R-Tex.), chair­man of the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, told re­porters af­ter a closed-door ses­sion with De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis and Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son that both Cab­i­net mem­bers were in­sist­ing on an end to short-term spend­ing bills.

“The sec­re­taries were very clear, I think, in en­cour­ag­ing Congress to re­solve the bud­get is­sues and end the con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tions so that they can man­age their de­part­ments,” Thorn­berry said, “and more im­por­tantly, so the world knows that we are func­tion­ing and can do what­ever needs to be done to pro­tect the na­tional se­cu­rity of the United States.”

Thorn­berry re­fused to com­mit to vot­ing for the con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion ex­pected on the floor next week.

“We’re just go­ing to have to see what the sit­u­a­tion is when it ar­rives. Ob­vi­ously there’s a lot of con­ver­sa­tion among mem­bers at this re­treat about the way for­ward,” he said. “No­body wants a gov­ern­ment shut­down, but we also can­not con­tinue to in­flict the dam­age that CRs in­flict on the mil­i­tary. We can’t keep do­ing that.”

Over­all dis­cre­tionary spend­ing lev­els — fund­ing for ed­u­ca­tion, hous­ing, de­fense and much more — are capped un­der a 2011 law, and ex­ceed­ing those lim­its re­quires bi­par­ti­san agree­ment un­der Se­nate fil­i­buster rules. Repub­li­cans are try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate an enor­mous in­crease in mil­i­tary spend­ing in the pend­ing bud­get deal, which Democrats hope to match with do­mes­tic spend­ing.

Bud­get deals passed un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in 2013 and 2015 pro­ceeded along those lines. But now, with Repub­li­cans in the White House and in con­trol of both houses of Congress, GOP law­mak­ers want to pur­sue a tougher pos­ture.

Mead­ows and Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 3 Se­nate Repub­li­can, sug­gested they might be will­ing to live with an in­crease in non­de­fense spend­ing as long as the ex­tra fund­ing is de­voted to in­fra­struc­ture, a ma­jor con­gres­sional agenda item for the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. There is no in­di­ca­tion that Democrats, who are push­ing for new in­vest­ments to com­bat the opi­oid cri­sis and beef up vet­er­ans’ ben­e­fits, would agree to those terms.

“Ob­vi­ously we’re prob­a­bly go­ing to need a short-term CR,” said Thune, while ac­knowl­edg­ing lit­tle progress has been made since last month’s shut­down.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) pushed back at sug­ges­tions of an im­passe, declar­ing in a terse state­ment Thurs­day that “dis­cus­sion on the caps deal is go­ing very well.”

The need to raise the fed­eral debt limit is fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing the bud­get ne­go­ti­a­tions. The Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice said Wed­nes­day that the limit will have to be raised above its cur­rent $20 tril­lion level by the first half of March — ear­lier than ex­pected be­cause of the GOP’s re­cent tax-cut leg­is­la­tion. The last in­crease was passed in Septem­ber as part of a tem­po­rary spend­ing agree­ment bro­kered be­tween Pres­i­dent Trump and con­gres­sional Democrats.

Repub­li­cans have typ­i­cally found it hard, if not im­pos­si­ble, to cob­ble to­gether enough House votes from their own party to in­crease the debt limit. That gives Democrats fur­ther lever­age to bar­gain for spend­ing con­ces­sions.

Hard-lin­ers have floated a num­ber of pro­pos­als meant to rein in fed­eral spend­ing, though none has ever got­ten broader buy-in from law­mak­ers.

Mead­ows said he has spo­ken to White House bud­get di­rec­tor Mick Mul­vaney and Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin “on how we can ef­fec­tively make some real re­forms in that area, and based on those ini­tial con­ver­sa­tions, a num­ber of Free­dom Cau­cus mem­bers could po­ten­tially sup­port those ef­forts.”

Thune said all the pend­ing is­sues, from spend­ing to im­mi­gra­tion to the debt ceil­ing, could end up get­ting dealt with to­gether.

“There’s sort of a pileup of things hap­pen­ing, all of which I think at some point could end up be­ing merged to­gether,” he said.

“I don’t see the prob­a­bil­ity of the Free­dom Cau­cus sup­port­ing a fifth CR with­out sub­stan­tial changes.”

Rep. Mark Mead­ows (R-N.C.)


Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mc­Connell (R-Ky.), cen­ter, and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) ar­rive for a news brief­ing dur­ing a Repub­li­can re­treat at the Green­brier re­sort. “I don’t think we’ll see a threat­ened gov­ern­ment shut­down again over this...

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