Republican Leaders Press Spending Patch to Avoid Shutdown

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, right, on Capitol Hill last week. House GOP leaders have unveiled legislation to keep the government running through Dec. 22.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, right, on Capitol Hill last week. House GOP leaders have unveiled legislation to keep the government running through Dec. 22. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

WASHINGTON—Congressional GOP leaders hope to pass a two-week spending bill before the federal government runs out of money by Saturday, but resistance among conservative Republicans and some Democrats could derail their plans with little time to spare.

On Saturday, House GOP leaders unveiled legislation to keep the government running through Dec. 22 and avoid a partial shutdown when its current funding expires at 12:01 a.m. Dec. 9. The House is expected to vote on the two-week spending patch Thursday, but GOP leaders could face difficulty securing enough support for a bill that is unpopular on both sides of the aisle.

GOP leaders need a majority to pass the bill in the House and 60 votes in the Senate, where Republicans hold only 52 seats.

Conservative House Republicans want to see a short-term spending bill that goes into early 2018, believing they will have more leverage to negotiate over spending levels in January, rather than in December, when lawmakers are rushing to finish the legislative year and return home.

“The budgeting never goes good when everybody loads up the Christmas tree and there’s artificial pressure to get out of town,” said Rep. Dave Brat (R., Va.), referring to lawmakers’ tendency to try to attach pet provisions to catchall bills at the year’s end. “You’ve got to give me one heck of a good argument for a two-week [spending bill] and I haven’t heard it yet.”

Conservatives are also wary because they know the top GOP and Democratic leaders are negotiating a budget deal that would likely raise federal spending by around $180 billion to $200 billion over two years. Without that deal, federal spending would return to lower levels, known as the sequester, that were established in a 2011 fight over raising the debt limit.

Under current law, regular military spending is capped at $549 billion for fiscal year 2018, while nonmilitary spending is capped at $516 billion.

Once the budget deal is reached, lawmakers will then have to scramble to write a detailed spending bill for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. But it isn’t clear they can do that by Dec. 22, so Congress might have to pass another short-term spending patch to buy enough time.

Democrats and a growing number of Republicans have said they would balk at funding the government into next year without providing protections for Dreamers, illegal immigrants brought to the country as children by their parents. President Donald Trump ended an Obama-era program protecting the Dreamers in September, but gave Congress until March to pass legislation shielding them from deportation.

It isn’t yet clear whether Democrats will withhold their votes on the short-term spending bill to demand protections for the young immigrants. Some have said they will not vote for any spending bills absent an immigration agreement, while others have indicated they would pass a short-term patch, but not any longer-term spending bill.

If the two sides reach an impasse and the government does shut down, many federal employees would be furloughed, but those deemed essential to protecting life or property would still be required to show up to work.

One question that GOP leaders will have to resolve soon is whether they attach other, more popular pieces of legislation to the short-term spending bill, such as a reauthorization of the children’s health-insurance program.

Separately, Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) had said she was able to support the Senate GOP tax bill, which repeals the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that most people have health-care insurance or pay a penalty, because she received a commitment from GOP leaders and Mr. Trump that they would pass two other bills aimed at mitigating any subsequent rise in health-care premiums.

Ms. Collins had said she thought it was likely that GOP leaders would add to the short-term spending patch a bill from Sens. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D., Wash.) that would restore payments to insurers for two years to help them offset the cost of subsidies for low-income consumers. That bill has been opposed by many conservative House Republicans, who view it as a bailout for insurers.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) was vague on Sunday about when the health-care bills would get passed, saying on ABC that they would be added to “one of these year-end bills that we’ll be doing in the next couple of weeks.”

Mr. McConnell predicted that lawmakers would resolve their disputes over the spending bills. “Look, there’s not going to be a government shutdown,” he said. “It’s just not going to happen.”


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