- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Conservative Republicans rebelled Tuesday against a $1.3 trillion spending bill, saying their party’s leaders not only accepted budget-busting funding increases but appear to be caving on all the important policy issues they’d hoped to attach to the massive legislation.

The bill — already nearly six months overdue — was still being finalized Tuesday evening, leaving lawmakers little time to digest it before they’ll be asked to vote. GOP leaders are planning to push the measure to the House floor on Thursday, followed by quick Senate action, as they try to beat a Friday government-shutdown deadline.

“I think for conservatives, it’s going to be hard to vote for this bill,” said Rep. Warren Davidson, Ohio Republican.

He said the House had approved a number of bills with strong conservative language on issues such as defunding Planned Parenthood, only to see it disappear in the final House-Senate negotiations.

Other Republicans said they were disappointed the bill didn’t appear to include language stripping money from sanctuary cities that thwart federal deportation efforts.

President Trump repeated his call for those punishments Tuesday, blaming Democrats for refusing to accept stiffer provisions. He also said he’s still battling to try to boost the number of detention beds to hold illegal immigrants awaiting deportation, as the government tried to end the “catch-and-release” policies analysts say are enticing a new wave of illegal immigration.

Left without big ideological wins, GOP leaders argued the bill was good for the military, pointing to an $80 billion boost in spending this year alone.

“This will be the biggest increase in defense spending in 15 years,” said House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican. “This is really about how we build the 21st-century military.”

He and other Republicans said American troops are dying in training accidents because of lack of money, and warned the U.S. is in danger of falling behind in the modernization race against some adversaries.

But the price for the $80 billion defense boost was a $63 billion one-year increase in discretionary domestic spending, agreed to as part of February’s budget deal.

Mr. Ryan said Republicans have managed to steer much of that domestic money to GOP priorities such as veterans care and addressing the opioid epidemic.

Rank-and-file conservatives, though, were left wondering what gains they got.

“There’s a good question,” said Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican. “That is a good question. Things that we would like to see in there generally aren’t.”

Rep. Justin Amash, Michigan Republican, said leaders’ attempt to force the bill through with truncated debate and no chance for amendments is hiding the real costs from voters.

“Conservatives should vote against it as a bloc, and so should everyone else. Nobody should vote for this bill,” he said.

Faced with that reluctance among conservatives, GOP leaders will likely need a significant number of Democrats to vote for the bill in order to pass it through the House — and would need Democratic support no matter what to overcome a filibuster in the Senate.

Timing is also becoming an issue. New funding must be secured before Saturday, or the government will spiral into its third partial shutdown of the year.

Democrats orchestrated the first shutdown in January over demands that illegal immigrant “Dreamers” get protections from deportation. They relented after three days.

The second shutdown came last month after Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, pushed the Senate past the deadline while trying to demand a vote on spending cuts. That shutdown only lasted hours.

Mr. Paul said Tuesday he’s not sure whether he’ll use procedural tactics to push this latest bill past the Friday deadline.

Democrats, meanwhile, have signaled they won’t demand action on Dreamers — but have also said they won’t accept Mr. Trump’s demand for a massive infusion of cash to build a border wall.

Leaders were also weighing whether to attach bipartisan legislation to encourage states and federal agencies to share more of their records with the national gun-purchase background check system.

The stand-alone measure, which has attracted more than 70 co-sponsors in the Senate, has gotten renewed attention after last month’s high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that claimed the lives of 17 students and faculty.

The House passed the bill, known as “Fix NICS,” last year, earning the support of conservatives by attaching an expansion of concealed carry rights.

Now those conservatives say it would be a betrayal to move Fix NICS without the concealed-carry legislation attached.

In addition to abortion, immigration, and guns, another open issue creating a snag in the talks is $900 million in funding for a Hudson River tunnel project.

Mr. Trump has suggested the money would earn a veto from him.

But the project is dear to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

“I’ve always said this is probably one of the most needed public works projects, not just for New York and New Jersey, but for the whole eastern corridor,” he said, warning that if the current tunnels fail, it could plunge the country into a recession by halting commerce.

Mr. Schumer said the final details of the bill were being written by top four Capitol Hill party leaders — himself, Mr. Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

“A few sticking points remain, but we are very close to signing off on legislation that both houses will be able to take up and pass by the end of the week,” he said.

Mr. McConnell, for his part, said there would be “plenty of time” to look at the details of the bill between the time it was released and voted on.

“We’re going to do it this week. And as long as that takes, that’s the time we’ll put in to get there,” he said.

Congress is scheduled to flee Washington on Friday for a two-week spring break — just as thousands of pro-gun control protesters are expected to descend on Capitol Hill to rally for stiffer national laws.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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