GOP leaders feel squeeze as shutdown threat nears

GOP leaders feel squeeze as shutdown threat nears

Concerns are mounting over whether GOP leaders can wrangle the votes to avoid a government shutdown next week — with Republicans feeling pinched on the right and the left.

Defense hawks in the GOP, who say short-term spending bills cripple the military, are threatening to vote against another stopgap without a long-term deal in hand to increase Pentagon funding. Progressive groups, meanwhile, are pressuring Democrats to oppose any government funding measure without an accord to shield more than 700,000 Dreamers from deportation.

The resistance from both ends of the political spectrum is making GOP leaders anxious, senior Republican sources say. They have to land two major, controversial bipartisan agreements in the next seven days — one on spending, one on immigration — or face a potential shutdown that would underscore their dysfunction and threaten their already fragile majorities.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told members in a closed-door meeting Thursday that a deal with Democrats is close but at least a week away, forcing Congress into the fourth stopgap in four months.

That next bill is expected to continue federal operations for four weeks, but could stretch even longer — posing a major problem for the Pentagon, which can’t start new programs and could face training and maintenance hurdles if spending remains frozen at current levels. And defense hawks are now demanding proof of a deal to raise stiff budget caps before they agree to another punt.

“I want to see a hard-and-fast agreement on two-year caps,” said Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), who sits on the House Armed Services Committee. That deal needs to be “locked in place,” he added.

The votes of the 34 Republicans on the powerful House Armed Services Committee will be critical on the next bill: Over the past four months, each stopgap bill has seen dwindling support from its GOP caucus.

The last vote — just days before Christmas — was suspenseful, with House Republicans keeping their eyes on the voting scoreboards until the final minutes. Just hours before, GOP leaders were forced to strip emergency disaster funding from the stopgap bill to ensure its passage after conservatives revolted against higher spending.

In that December vote to keep the government open, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Democratic Caucus remained unified against the stopgap until Republicans proved they could pass it on their own, forcing GOP leaders to twist the defense hawks’ arms for support.

Part of GOP leadership’s plea to defense hawks at the time was a promise to have a broader spending deal in hand by the next deadline on Jan. 19. Ryan and his deputies said then that an accord was close, and just one more month of negotiations should finish it up.

Now, one week from that new deadline, there’s little expectation on Capitol Hill that a spending cap deal will be passed by next Friday.

With spending talks seemingly stalled, defense hawks are threatening that they won’t buy leaders more time.

“It makes a difference if you have a deal and you need time to write it, rather than needing more time to negotiate. That’s a big difference,” said Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas).

Thornberry and Republicans on his committee are fighting to boost spending on national defense to more than $700 billion this year, well above strict caps on the Pentagon budget set under law. Congress must agree to lift those caps before it can pass an omnibus spending bill to fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year.

Though they largely supported the previous two temporary funding measures, a slew of defense hawks voted against a continuing resolution in September. The legislation included billions in hurricane recovery aid, which likely won over some lawmakers who may have otherwise opposed a continuing resolution.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) said the status of a deal to increase defense spending, plus the length of the latest patch, would be a deciding factor in his vote.

“Are we talking about a week or two, or are we talking about months?” Lamborn asked. “Obviously, going months into the future with another CR is unacceptable.”

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), a senior Armed Services member, also said he’s undecided, but noted defense hawks wield considerable influence in the GOP conference. “I know we’re all critically thinking about it,” he said.

The fight over immigration also looms large over the potential shutdown showdown.

Democrats are under fierce pressure by liberal activists — and many of their own members — to oppose any government funding stopgap until the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is salvaged.

Pelosi signaled that she’s in agreement with this strategy during a news conference Thursday.

“People say, ‘Oh, is there going to be another CR?’” she said. “But there’s no point in having another CR unless we have an agreement on DACA, on funding.”

Multiple rank-and-file Democrats also said they will hold out for those same agreements.

Without a solution for Dreamers, said Rep. Ruben Gallego, “Republicans can get their own votes on the CR.”

But the closer GOP leaders get to a deal on Dreamers, the more likely they’ll lose conservative votes for next week’s spending bill.

“We cannot pass a DACA, border security bill without Democrats in the Senate. And if you get Democratic votes in the Senate, that’s going to disappoint some Republicans in the House, and they’ll fall off the wagon,” said Rep. Tom Cole, a close ally of GOP leadership. “That’s the nature of a deal.”

Even if House GOP leaders can persuade their caucus to back an immigration deal, Ryan could face another conservative revolt over any agreement to raise budget caps.

Fiscal hawks in the House are already convinced they’ll lose big in bipartisan spending talks. Sources say the two-year deal would include possibly up to $300 billion in new spending with few meaningful cuts to offset the cost.

A grand bargain could also prop up Obamacare and raise the debt ceiling, creating what some House Republicans already see as a nightmare.

If defense hawks and fiscal hawks unite in opposition to next week’s funding bill, Ryan will need to reach across the aisle to try to woo Democrats, who may be in no mood to bail him out amid a stalemate over immigration.

Ultimately, House GOP leaders might have to count on a broad desire in both parties to avoid a destructive shutdown. And there are other ways to woo reluctant lawmakers.

Multiple sources say the next stopgap bill is expected to include funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which expired in September. If a CHIP extension is attached to the next spending bill without partisan provisions, Republicans believe that Democrats would be hard-pressed to vote against it.

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