Conservative House lawmakers say they are worried that Republican leaders will add more spending to a short-term government funding measure as a way to drum up support for final tax reform legislation.
The House Freedom Caucus is pushing for a continuing resolution to fund the government until Dec. 30, eight days longer than the Dec. 22 resolution pushed by House leadership, to try to avoid leaders adding money to the resolution as they work on the tax legislation.
Several members singled out the deal to win the vote of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, for the Senate tax bill in exchange for pushing two Obamacare stabilization bills as the reason for their concern.
“My biggest concern is that if we go to a CR and go to conference on taxes, which is what we are doing, you are giving leverage back to a number of senators who want to increase spending,” said Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., a founding member of the caucus, on Wednesday. “From a timing standpoint, we are in a dangerous position over the next two weeks.”
The government is funded only through Friday, and a vote is expected Thursday on a continuing resolution to fund the government until Dec. 22.
Meanwhile, Republicans want to have the tax legislation on President Trump's desk by Christmas, and the Senate and House are expected to meet soon to reconcile differences between their competing versions of the bill.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the vice chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said Tuesday that the tax reform and spending bills need to be kept separate. That would keep the spending bill clean and not force lawmakers to take tough votes to keep the government open.
“Separate bills, but coming at the same time, I think then that makes people much more likely to say that, 'In order to vote for the tax bill, I am going to need X to happen in the spending bill,'” he said.
Reporters then asked Jordan if the Obamacare stabilization bills were a deal breaker for his approval on a spending deal. “That’s what I am afraid of,” Jordan responded.
Rep. David Brat, R-Va., said a stabilization deal from Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., is a concern.
“That is one big part that is symbolic of the bigger problem,” he said.
The deal would make payments to Obamacare insurers for two years in exchange for more flexibility for states to waive federal insurer regulations. Collins received assurances from Senate GOP leadership and Trump that the bill, and another that would give $10 billion in funding to insurers over two years, would become law by the end of the year.
The assurances were key to getting Collins' support for the tax legislation, which includes a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate. But missing from the deal is assurances from House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
House conservatives are opposed to the bills because they believe they would prop up a failing system.
The insurer payments go to reimburse Obamacare insurers for a mandate in the law to lower out-of-pocket costs for poor people. The second bill gives states $10 billion to set up reinsurance programs to cover the sickest claims from Obamacare insurers, which would lead to lower premiums overall.
Freedom Caucus leader Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said that Alexander-Murray was not the biggest concern for members in the spending fight.
“Obviously a number of our members have concerns, but that is a minor issue compared to the other spending issues,” he said earlier this week.
Some lawmakers are still nursing old wounds of battling former House Speaker John Boehner over spending bills passed before Christmas.
“Many of us have a history, more during the Boehner years, of bad things happening to us just before Christmas,” said Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz. “The world is different under this leadership, but many of us still remember our wounds from before.”