As House GOP Plans Spending Vote to Fund Military, Signs of 2-Year Deal Appear --2nd Update

02/06/18 02:46 PM EST
By Kristina Peterson 

WASHINGTON -- Top lawmakers signaled they were closing on two-year spending deal, progress that came as the House was preparing to vote later Tuesday on the latest in a string of short-term patches to keep the federal government open.

With the government's current funding set to expire at 12:01 a.m. Friday, House Republicans prepared Tuesday to approve a bill that would fund the Defense Department for the rest of the year, but keep the rest of the government running only through March 23. That bill stands little chance of passing the Senate. But House GOP lawmakers said Monday night their strategy was the only way they could secure enough votes to pass another short-term spending bill now.

Many lawmakers expect the bill to change later in the week, with congressional leaders drawing closer to a two-year budget deal.

"Everyone understands that this will probably end up being a ping-pong situation" where a bill is bounced between the House and Senate," Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R., Fla.) said Monday night as he left the House GOP's closed-door meeting. "And we'll see where the ball lands."

The House bill would fund the government through March 23, boost spending for the Defense Department for the full fiscal year, which goes through September, and fund community health centers for two years, lawmakers said.

Adding the extra defense money helped win over conservative House Republicans, whose votes will be needed. Most House Democrats are expected to oppose the short-term spending bill until a fight over immigration has been resolved.

"We're in good shape to be able to pass it with Republican-only votes," Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told reporters Monday night.

Senate Democrats support lifting military spending above limits established in the 2011 debt-limit fight, but they have pushed to secure an equal increase in spending for domestic programs in continuing negotiations over a two-year budget deal.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said earlier Monday that Democrats wouldn't support a stopgap spending bill that only provides long-term funding for the military. But he signaled that congressional leaders were closing in on the two-year budget deal.

"Even though a deal has eluded us for months, negotiators are now making significant progress," Mr. Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "The Republican leader and I have been working together quite productively. Of course, there are still some outstanding issues to be resolved, but we are closer to an agreement than we have ever been."

On Tuesday morning, Mr. Schumer met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), calling it afterwards a "good meeting."

Mr. McConnell had no immediate comment on the meeting.

Few lawmakers expect this week's spending fight to culminate in a repeat of last month's three-day partial government shutdown. But the week's trajectory remains uncertain, largely because the calculus would change immediately if a long-term budget deal is reached.

"I am pleased to report that our bipartisan talks are continuing to progress towards an agreement on spending caps and the important priorities all of us are eager to address," Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

If congressional leaders do reach an agreement this week to lift both military and domestic spending for two years, that could ease the concerns of many Republicans who want to provide more stable funding to the Defense Department.

And some Senate Democrats, many of whom had hoped to use their leverage on spending bills to secure an agreement on immigration, are starting to view the two issues as separate. As part of the agreement to reopen the government last month, Mr. McConnell agreed to bring an immigration bill to the Senate floor under a process that would be fair and neutral to both parties.

"I'm open to taking a look at a budget deal on its own," Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) said Monday.

Lawmakers are negotiating in both chambers over how to address the fate of Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. at a young age. President Donald Trump in September ended the Obama-era program shielding them from deportation, but gave Congress until March 5 to pass a replacement.

In remarks to a small group of reporters, Chief of Staff John Kelly said Tuesday he opposed the notion of a one-year extension in the program, according to the Associated Press. He also said he doubted Mr. Trump would extend the March 5 deadline unilaterally if Congress doesn't reach a deal. The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

It isn't clear how many House Democrats would support a spending agreement if Congress hasn't yet passed any legal protections for the Dreamers, which many have said must be done first.

And conservatives are likely to balk at a budget deal that would significantly raise federal spending levels, though Mr. Meadows said it would depend on the specifics.

"If you plus up the size of government substantially, it certainly loses some conservative support," he said.

If a two-year budget agreement isn't reached this week, the Senate could vote to strip out the additional defense funding and return the bill back to the House.

The chamber is expected to adjourn for the House Democrats' annual policy retreat on Wednesday afternoon, but lawmakers said they would expect to remain in town or return to Washington should they need to vote again on a modified spending bill to avoid another shutdown.

Write to Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 06, 2018 14:46 ET (19:46 GMT)

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