House Republicans late Tuesday had little time to celebrate their pending victory on tax reform, and instead were scrambling to come up with a bill to keep the government open past Friday's deadline.
The House is expected to vote on legislation as early as Wednesday that would keep the government funded fully through Jan. 19 and would include full fiscal 2018 funding for defense.
But that bill won’t pass the Senate.
Lawmakers in the upper chamber plan on stripping out the year-long defense spending and tacking on a measure to fund Obamacare subsidies.
But that legislation can’t pass the House with GOP votes and according to leadership aides, won’t even get floor consideration. That conflict between what can pass the House and what can pass the Senate is leaving Republicans in a bind.
Republican leaders in a closed-door meeting on Tuesday told the GOP the House should not pass the Senate's cost-sharing subsidies, which they said would prop up a flawed and failing Obamacare law.
As a result, House lawmakers will have to come up with a new bill and send that back to the Senate. But no one knows what that bill will look like.
Still, GOP leadership aides, Republicans in both chambers are negotiating a deal that can actually clear Congress and make it to President Trump’s desk by Friday’s deadline.
House Republicans were thrown a curveball late Tuesday, when it became clear they would have to vote again on the tax bill because the Senate was forced to make two changes to it, in order to allow it to pass under budget reconciliation rules. That could complicate efforts to find a spending deal by the end of the week.
Another uncertainty is how Congress plans to extend a key surveillance tool used by the intelligence community to help combat domestic terrorism.
Republicans say they’ll extend the provision, but there are two House versions and a Senate version that make reforms to the spying tool, and no agreement on how to merge them all.
The House plans a vote on a combined standalone measure, in part because Republican conservatives are depending separate consideration of the provision. But the Senate may attach it to their spending bill, while some Senate Republicans say nothing more than a very short-term extension is possible.
The uncertainty has lawmakers wondering when, exactly, Congress will adjourn for the year.
"I've got a plane reservation on Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday morning," Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said. "I am going home for Christmas. I might be back the day after."
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said he is certain Congress will clear a spending bill by Friday and will also wrap up the other unfinished business, including passage of an $81 billion disaster relief bill for states and territories damaged by wildfires and hurricanes.
The disaster relief package doubles a request sent to Congress by the Trump administration, but Democrats say the funding level should be increased.
In the Senate, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he won’t vote for the package unless Texas uses state money from a $10 billion “rainy day” fund to cover some of the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey.
“Let Texas spend that,” Schumer said. “I guarantee you if it was in a blue state, some of our friends in Texas would be calling for it.”
Senate Democrats are also calling for a deal to legalize so-called Dreamers, who came to the United States illegally as children.
Republicans have ruled out including Dreamer language in the spending bill but Democrats are pushing for a year-end deal, though they are not likely to block a spending measure because of it.
“We should strive to reach a deal as soon as humanly possible,” Schumer said.
The House bill includes a five-year reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program but Democrats oppose the funding, which they say depletes other health programs for children.
Republican leaders pledged there will be no partial government shutdown. But Democrats say Republicans need to work with them on a bipartisan deal.
“We haven’t had a great show of bipartisanship up to this point, but I am hopeful they will reach across the aisle and we will have discussions and we will do what the American people need done,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said on Fox News late Tuesday.