House GOP leaders will decide next week whether to brave an ugly floor fight over a massive GOP spending bill — a proposal applauded by some rank-and-file Republicans but that risks embarrassment if it fails.
In a closed-door GOP conference meeting Friday morning, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said all 12 appropriations bills will be finished in committee by the end of next week. Starting Monday, leadership will begin a tentative whip count on whether lawmakers would vote for a package before the August recess that combines all of those bills into one $1 trillion government funding bill.
The idea, first proposed by Rep. Tom Graves, a senior appropriator, is to give House Republicans a chance to pass a red-meat spending bill that will lay out GOP priorities. Though the bill would never pass the Senate in the face of Democratic opposition, the process would allow House Republicans to offer potentially hundreds of amendments, an exercise that excites members who are frustrated that they’ve had no input on how to fund the government.
“It’s actually been the consensus of the conference to get all this done before August,” Graves (R-Ga.) said upon emerging from conference Friday, optimistic that his idea will take. “We’re here to get our job done, and I’ll tell you, members are excited about the opportunity to put our priorities forward and advance it to the floor.
The strategy could open something of a Pandora’s box, however. Lawmakers would be required to vote on controversial amendments that could be used against them in their districts, from provisions on the Confederate flag to gay rights proposals that put them in bind. Democratic amendments chiding the administration for the Russia controversy are almost assured.
Perhaps more worrisome: The bill might fail on the floor, which would provoke another flood of damaging headlines about the GOP’s deep divisions and inability govern.
While Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), another senior Appropriations member, said the Graves strategy was the “preferred” approach, he acknowledged that reaching 218 votes could be a challenge for the fractious conference. Republicans have yet to unite around a broader fiscal 2018 budget, let alone a $1 trillion government funding package with “hundreds and hundreds of pages,” he said.
That’s why GOP leaders want the conference to commit to passing the final bill — whatever it looks like — before they move down this path. McCarthy asked members to read the various spending bills over the weekend and be ready to give leadership feedback next week.
Leadership has reminded members that they won’t get everything they want, and if their amendments or ideas fail on the floor, they should be ready to support the final version anyway.
Getting such a commitment from members, however, could be difficult since they will want to see the final product before committing to vote for it.
Former House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said he’s optimistic GOP leaders will succeed in rounding up enough Republican votes to pass the omnibus spending package.
“I think so, but it’s such an early moment here,” Rogers told reporters Friday morning. “The people haven’t seen the bills. But I think when they do, they’ll find that these bills are solid, they’re complete and they give us a chance to take a shutdown off the table.”
What’s different from previous intra-party clashes, Rogers said, is that appropriators have made concessions that should appease the fiscal conservatives who usually vote against spending bills.
“We cut spending. We fully fund the military request. Social issues we’ve taken care of in the bill,” he said. “So I think we’ve taken away all the objections that most people had.”
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa), a centrist Republican on the Appropriations committee, expressed concern that some of the bills called for unrealistically low spending levels, which would run into opposition in the Senate.
But he said he would support a bundled funding package, in part because it would include the bill funding military construction and veterans programs that his subcommittee wrote.
“I’m in the bus,” he joked. “I’m the leadoff hitter.”
Dent also lamented that many of the hard-line Republicans who back this spending package will ultimately oppose the final plan that can pass both chambers of Congress.
“If this gets me to an agreement in the end, to the real numbers, I can deal with it,” Dent said. “But the point is … my frustration is, there are people who will vote for the takeoff, for the initial launch, but they’ll be nowhere to be found for the landing, for the real bill that matters.”