House Republicans Wednesday set a tentative plan to take up a short-term spending bill that would keep the government funded until Jan. 19, but planned to strip out a year-long defense funding measure that faced a Senate filibuster, and was likely to set up a separate vote on a new disaster relief package.
Republicans met in the Capitol basement shortly after returning from a celebratory meeting at the White House, where they cheered passage of a major tax overhaul.
They emerged from the meeting a little less cheerful, with no certain path forward on a bill to avoid a partial government shutdown after Friday. A clash of lawmaker coalitions with different priorities has left GOP leaders struggling to find a way to pass the measures in both the House and the Senate.
"There is no specific direction right now," Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, who chairs the House Rules Committee, told the Washington Examiner.
In addition to the spending bills, lawmakers must act on a bill to reauthorize a anti-terrorism surveillance tool that expires at the end of the year, and legislation to reauthorize the Children's Health Insurance Program.
"There are a number of separate factors, do you do three separate bills, do you put them all together?" Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who heads the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said after the meeting.
Meadows said the plan to pass a bill that merely funds the government until Jan. 19 won't fly with his faction of three-dozen lawmakers, in part because it excludes a year-long defense spending measure.
"I'm not optimistic it will reach the 218 threshold based on our whip," Meadows said, referring to the way votes are counted ahead of floor consideration.
But Republicans can't necessarily count on Democrats, who have vowed to vote against a short-term bill if it leaves out their priorities.
Lawmakers have decided to keep separate an $81 billion disaster relief package that they had planned to pass as part of the government funding measure.
Conservatives balked at that idea by saying the relief package would add to the deficit, while Democrats complained it did not provide enough relief spending, particularly for Puerto Rico, which was significantly damaged by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Republicans have not yet decided whether they will vote this week on a measure to reauthorize the Children's Health Insurance Program. But they don't need to.
Funding for the program runs out January 30 and a House GOP proposal to reauthorize it for five years has run into opposition from conservatives, who want to add anti-abortion language, as well as Democrats who say it is paid for by stripping money from other programs that benefit poor children.
The House GOP is also considering a short-term “patch” for the Children’s Health Insurance Program to tide over cash-strapped states until Jan. 19, according to a House aide. It remains unclear what the “patch” would entail, including whether it will lead to new funding or an administrative fix similar to what Congress did with the Dec. 8 continuing resolution.
That administrative fix made it easier for the Trump administration to use leftover CHIP funding from prior years to give to states running out of money. There are a little more than a handful of states that are warning low-income families that coverage could go away in 30 days without funding, the latest being Alabama.
Lawmakers were bullish that Congress would do some move to protect CHIP for the next month.
“We are not going to let CHIP go broke,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., after exiting a closed-door GOP conference on the continuing resolution.
Republicans are unsure about how they will handle the surveillance legislation, but a three or four month extension is likely, lawmakers said. Still, it's not clear whether it will be included in the spending bill or taken up as a standalone measure.
Lawmakers in both parties want to make changes to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, that they say are needed to protect privacy and prevent it from being abused for political purposes. Conservatives don't want FISA merged with the government spending bill.
"We need to keep FISA off the bill," said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a House Freedom Caucus member.
Republicans leaders tried to gauge what they could pass by polling their rank-and-file at evening votes and planned to meet later to figure out a plan.
"We are on plan C," said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa. "We can always move to plan D."
The Senate, meanwhile, is waiting to see what the House can pass. Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the upper chamber could make changes if needed and then send what they pass back to the House.
But Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the House could vote on their end-of-year legislation on Thursday and leave town, forcing the Senate to accept what they pass.
Robert King contributed