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GOP gains leverage over Democrats in January spending battle

122217 GOP unity building pic
Republican leaders in the House and Senate have needed Democratic support for spending bills in the past. Not this year. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Republicans this week managed to pass critical short-term spending bills without requiring any help from Democrats, an achievement that GOP lawmakers said will give them new leverage as they head into major spending negotiations next year.

“The Democrats now know we can put up the votes if we need to,” Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, told the Washington Examiner. “So they can either play in the wilderness or sit down at the table like adults.”

Past spending battles have often required compromise with House Democrats because the GOP could not round up enough support from conservative lawmakers seeking spending reductions or making other demands.

For example, Democrats took a victory lap in May after reaching a $1 trillion deal with Republicans to fund the federal government. Despite Republican control over the White House and both chambers of Congress, the legislation shut out GOP priorities including a border wall and an end to taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood.

The victory emboldened Democrats, who this time around insisted on language legalizing so-called Dreamers in exchange for their vote, among other demands.

But Republicans shut them out and passed two short-term spending bills in December with mostly GOP backing. It's the second time the GOP has been able to do that this year.

Republicans say they passed the short-term bills, which many of them didn’t favor, because they are eager for legislation that is more in their favor when they convene in January and begin negotiating another huge bipartisan spending deal that is likely to wrap in a limited immigration reform measure.

The pending accord, which will have to include new caps for domestic and defense spending, will test the leverage of both parties.

Republicans say they plan to be in a better position than they were in the May 2017 deal, and GOP leaders warned their rank and file that if they hold up Thursday’s stop-gap spending bill, known as a continuing resolution or CR, they’ll be sending a signal of party weakness ahead of January negotiations.

The CR had to pass by Friday, when a temporary government spending measure expired.

“If we’d had a failure on the CR and a shutdown, then the caps discussion would have gone against us,” Flores said. “It would have hurt where we are trying to take the Defense Department.”

House Republicans, who huddled in the Capitol basement before the vote on the CR, came to the conclusion that they should stick together to avoid having to win votes from Democrats that would require shifting the legislation to the left.

“We had a really good conference and that was a centerpiece of the conversation,” Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., a top appropriator, told the Washington Examiner. “You either do this or take some bad stuff you don’t like.”

Rogers said the GOP unity sends a strong message to Democrats ahead of next year’s spending negotiations.

“This is a good model for us to use,” Rogers said. “They should realize, they better get in and play ball with us before the fact.”