Government shutdown looms as GOP scrambles for funding votes

House Republicans have given up on striking an immigration enforcement deal with Democrats in exchange for legalizing DACA recipients.  That means that Speaker Paul Ryan will have to pass a short-term bill that funds the government through February 16 by relying exclusively on votes from his caucus.

With the deadline to avoid a shutdown tomorrow, it isn't looking good.

But whether it's false bravado or not, the GOP leadership is expressing confidence that a deal will get done.


With government funding set to run out on Friday – and the two sides far apart on an immigration deal – Ryan and senior House Republicans are pushing legislation to keep the government funded until Feb. 16.  In a bid to pick up votes from both parties, the measure would also fund a popular children's health program for six more years and delay the implementation of several Obamacare taxes.

House [m]inority [l]eader Nancy Pelosi of California and fellow Democrats have refused to back the plan.  Since Republicans are in the majority, they should pass the short-term funding bill – the fourth since the fiscal year began on Oct. 1 – without Democrats' help, they say.

With Democrats on the sidelines, Republicans spent Wednesday leaning on every member for [his] vote.

"I think it passes.  I don't think it's overwhelming, but I think it passes," Republican Study Committee [c]hairman Mark Walker (R-N.C.) said after GOP lawmakers met on Wednesday.

I would be more accurate to say Republicans are looking to avoid a "semi-shutdown" of the government.  As in the past, the government will not simply stop issuing checks or benefits.  Some programs will be shut down; others will continue.  There is no planned furloughing of federal workers, although that may change by next week if the GOP can't come to an agreement.

Inside the House Republican Conference, there are three main factions of potential "no" votes: defense hawks unhappy over the leadership's failure to boost Pentagon funding; the Freedom Caucus, the group of conservative hard-liners; and members who are simply unsure what to do.

House Armed Services Committee [c]hairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) and Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) – both key players on defense issues – will back the funding bill, according to Turner and a top House Republican.

"I'm voting for the [C.R.] in support of the speaker and his efforts to get a budget deal," Turner said.

Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), a defense hawk whose state stands to run out of funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program this month, said Wednesday he was "torn" over the bill.

"It's a pretty tough vote for me, but it's really a tough vote for all of us, because I think all of us care about defense and all of us care about" children's health, Byrne said, suggesting that he will ultimately back the proposal.

Knowing [that] the vote is close, Ryan, House [m]ajority [l]eader Kevin McCarthy of California[,] and other GOP leaders debated on Wednesday morning whether to add more provisions to the package, such as funding for community health centers.  In the end, they decided to move ahead with the package as is, said GOP sources.

But Freedom Caucus leaders say their group alone has enough disgruntled members to block the bill if Democrats remain opposed.

The president is apparently working the phones trying to get reluctant conservatives on board.  But despite the optimism by GOP leaders, I think the odds are against passage.  The primary reason is that many members – conservative or not – see no advantage to continuing to fund the government with these short-term budget bills.  Appeals to party loyalty or loyalty to the president will make it close, but Ryan has a long way to go to get 217 Republicans to go along.

Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows speaks for many members:

The group's chairman, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), is working to elbow himself into the broader spending and immigration talks.  Meadows said his main priority is to make sure Ryan has a plan to end the "stop-and-go" budgeting cycle.

Noting that Congress has already passed three continuing resolutions, or [C.R.]s, to keep the government running, he said, "So how is this [C.R.] going to produce a plan that's different [from] the last three?  Are we just going to hope that Feb. 16 is better than Jan. 19 just because it's in a different month?"

Trump was right to blow up the bipartisan DACA deal.  What's the point of legalizing a million illegal aliens if there is no broader effort to enforce the immigration laws we have on the books already?  And Meadows is right as well: the C.R.s are no way to run a government. 

Of course, Democrats are delighted.  They are relying on their party's adjunct – the national media – to put a thumb on the scale in order to portray the GOP as the obstructionists.  At the very least, the media will highlight Republican incompetence in being unable to secure the budget votes from within their own party.

The funding impasse won't begin to bite for ten days or so.  Once federal workers are forced to stay home, the pressure on lawmakers to ink a deal will return.  At that point, it's more likely that something will get done.

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