- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 5, 2017

House leaders delayed consideration Tuesday of a stopgap funding bill needed to avoid a government shutdown this weekend, as the GOP tried to mollify its restive conference and maintain a strong negotiating hand in year-end spending talks.

A floor vote was moved from Wednesday to Thursday, nudging the debate closer to a Friday deadline to avoid a partial shutdown.

Republican leaders say the two-week bill will buy time for broader talks on spending caps to fund the military and domestic issues, plus a host of end-of-year priorities that might ride on any must-pass bill that gets out of Congress before the new year.

But archconservatives in the House Freedom Caucus say nothing good can come from striking a substantive deal right before Christmas.

They want the short-term bill, or “continuing resolution,” to extend to Dec. 30 instead of Dec. 22. They’re particularly worried that GOP leaders will cede ground to Democrats by lumping in measures related to Obamacare or immigration before heading home for the holiday.

“When the choice becomes: ‘pass the funding bill we give you, or stay in Washington over Christmas’ — how does that produce a good result?” tweeted Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan did not commit to either date during a press availability Tuesday, though said he is confident they would avert a federal shutdown this week.

“We’re going to have 218 [votes] for passing the CR we have this week,” Mr. Ryan said. “We’re having a good conversation with our members about exactly how to do this.”

GOP leaders told members it would be ideal if enough Republicans voted for the measure to push the debate to Dec. 22 without relying on Democratic votes, according to a person in the room. The idea is that Republicans would have a stronger negotiating hand when Congress makes real decisions in a couple weeks.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also said it is important to pass a “clean bill” through Dec. 22.

“By approving a short-term bill, we can continue the crucial functions of the federal government while we work with our colleagues in the House and the Trump Administration to finalize a long-term plan,” Mr. McConnell said.

The bill would also waive certain rules to ensure that states don’t run out of money for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Federal funding for the program expired Sept. 30 and will likely be renewed as part of year-end talks.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are scheduled to discuss year-end priorities with President Trump and GOP leaders at the White House on Thursday.

Democrats want to match any spending hikes for defense with equal increases for domestic initiatives. They feel they have a measure of leverage in the shutdown-showdown, since Democratic support will be needed to get any spending bill to 60 votes in the Senate.

On Tuesday, Mr. Schumer said it will be difficult to get things done if GOP leaders let hardline conservatives call the shots.

“If we’re going to solve all the problems that confront us before the end of the year, House leaders cannot let the Freedom Caucus — a small band of hard-right, reactionary, conservatives — run the show. If they cooperate with Democrats, they can accomplish something,” the New York Democrat said.

Complicating matters, House conservatives are cool to a pair of Obamacare-stabilization measures that Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, wants to vote on before the end of the year. She conditioned her support for the GOP tax bill on promises that both measures would be in a must-pass bill this month, yet some House Republicans will balk at any measures that bolsters the 2010 health law.

“I am confident that it will work out,” Ms. Collins said.

Another sticking point is what to do about immigrant “Dreamers” who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children and whose protected status is set to expire in March. Democrats want to act now, saying it’s too risky to let the matter slip into the new year.

Republican leaders say they want a fix, too, after Mr. Trump said he couldn’t leave the legally suspect Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals deportation amnesty in place. Yet they do not want to wrap the debate into the spending fight, raising the specter of a shutdown if enough Democrats insist on grappling with it before the end of the year.

“We are certainly willing to enter into those good-faith negotiations, but they do not belong in an end-of-the-year spending appropriations debate,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, Texas Republican.

Yet, 34 House Republicans signed a letter Tuesday that calls on GOP leadership to take care of Dreamers before the end of the year.

“While we firmly believe Congress must work to address other issues within our broken immigration system, it is imperative that Republicans and Democrats come together to solve this problem now and not wait until next year,” they wrote. “We all agree that our border must be enforced, our national security defended, and our broken immigration system reformed, but in this moment, we must address the urgent matter before us in a balanced approach that does not harm valuable sectors of our economy nor the lives of these hard-working young people.”

“Reaching across the aisle,” they added, “to protect DACA recipients before the holidays is the right thing to do.”

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