House Republicans agreed at a closed-door conference Friday to dodge another all-encompassing omnibus spending bill, but remain at odds over the duration of a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded after the 2016 fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, a long-time critic of massive year-end spending deals, proposed the option of passing a series of “mini-bus” packages, grouping a small number of appropriations bills together instead of legislation encompassing all 12.
While it’s not the regular order GOP leadership had hoped for, supporters of the proposal argue it’s less offensive than the alternative of a sweeping national discretionary budget. The current proposal provides more transparency and allows Congress to complete the FY 2017 budget before the end of the year.
“As a conservative, it’s better to have a conservative Congress legislate rather than give the power to the president, so I’m supportive of it,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
But a number of members of the House Freedom Caucus remain unsold on the idea, arguing multiple mini-buses is essentially passing the same thing as an omnibus.
“Tell me how it works different, whether it’s a mini-bus or an omnibus, call it whatever it is, but if it results in more spending on everything like it did last time, I just think it’s all problematic,” House Freedom Caucus (HFC) Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio told reporters after the meeting. “People who are no longer accountable to the voters in a lame-duck session shouldn’t be making these kind of big decisions when we’ve got big spending measures sitting around – I think that just doesn’t work.”
Virginia Rep. Dave Brat noted its success hinges on the Senate supporting the proposal, which he feels in unlikely.
“Regular order failed, the House Freedom Caucus fought very hard for that, so mini-buses, you can say all sorts of big fancy terms that the American people don’t understand, but the whole hour and a half discussions assumed we are somehow going to pass the appropriations bill in a month when we haven’t passed thus far,” he told reporters. “So you can say mini-bus, reaching out and whatever, but is Harry Reid really going to be in favor of this? If so, let me know, because all bets are off.”
HFC members said the idea of coupling mini-buses with a short-term CR is particularly troubling. They fear a stop-gap measure that ends before a new president takes office will lead to higher spending levels and provide Democrats an advantage in pushing their policy agenda since President Barack Obama no longer has an incentive to negotiate.
“I think we’ll vote against a CR short-term because you haven’t heard anything yet, this is just the Republican discussion on rational principles on how to fund the military, it’s all a love fest in here compared to what’s coming,” Brat said. “You can put a positive spin on it, but you have to hear what Obama will add and the leverage he’s going to put on it in a lame duck – that’s missing from the conversation.”
Critics of a stop-gap measure extending into 2017 slammed the proposal for the effects is could have on the U.S. military.
“We had good reception here today on the idea, I think, on the idea of a short-term, particularly by those who believe in s strong military,” House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers told reporters. “A CR until March would do severe damage to our military capabilities – that’s apparent now.”
CR scenarios lead to billions of dollars of military funding being cut, according to Republican Study Committee Chairman Bill Flores of Texas.
“Some people said, well you have half as much damage with a three-month CR versus having a six-month CR,” he told TheDCNF. “Here’s the core question: If Congress won’t do it [pass a defense spending bill] today, why is it going to be Disney World in December and why is it going to be better in March?
Flores noted a mini-bus would provide Congress the opportunity to prioritize passing defense spending sooner than passing an omnibus.
The Senate is expected to vote later in September on a continuing resolution lasting until December 9.
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