The specter of another government shutdown is emerging on Capitol Hill, amid concerns that Republican leaders who failed to unite the party last week on an ObamaCare overhaul will likewise struggle to finalize a spending package before the April 28 deadline.
“We should not take things for granted, especially after what happened last week,” Oklahoma GOP Rep. Tom Cole told Fox News. “The last thing we need is a self-inflicted crisis. … There frankly isn’t much time.”
Voters largely blamed congressional Republicans for the last shutdown, in 2013, when they engaged in a budget standoff with Senate Democrats and President Obama over ObamaCare funding.
Much of the federal government shuttered from Oct. 1-16, during the fight driven by Tea Party sage Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and the conservative Heritage Foundation — both influential in sinking House Speaker Paul Ryan’s ObamaCare overhaul bill.
To avoid a repeat this year, Congress is eyeing a short-term measure known as a continuing resolution. This could bundle the roughly 12 spending bills together, despite Ryan, R-Wis., pledging last year to try to end that practice.
Cole, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which has jurisdiction over the spending bills that fund all federal agencies, voiced concern about that approach and said these bills should have been done late last year.
But this year’s spending bill standoff is now emerging as a sequel to the clash over an ObamaCare replacement, with Ryan again having to juggle the interests of the chamber’s moderate Republicans with those of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus.
About 20 of the Freedom Caucus’ roughly 35 members opposed Ryan and President Trump’s ObamaCare overhaul plan, arguing it didn’t fully repeal and replace the struggling 2010 health care law. Ryan and Trump got no support from House Democrats to get the requisite 216 House votes to pass their plan, which they scrapped Friday.
In this year’s budget battle, Ryan will likely need Democratic support, which will be tough to get if Republicans try to use the package to defund Planned Parenthood and seek spending cuts elsewhere.
All this comes before debate even begins over the budget plan for next year, which Trump wants to include billions more for the military, and a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
And any compromise on spending cuts will almost certainly spark opposition from the Freedom Caucus.
“Republicans have always needed help from the Democrats,” Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House’ second-ranking Democrat, said Tuesday. “They never came up with … votes on their own.”
He and Cole agreed this week on at least one point: that GOP-led House committees should have agreed months ago on spending bills.
“They had time to figure it out,” Hoyer said. “They haven’t figured it out.”
The House now has 237 Republicans, 193 Democrats and five vacant seats, which means Ryan needs 216 votes to pass legislation.
The Republican-led Senate also is behind on its spending bills, having largely been consumed by confirmation hearings for the Trump administration and now getting the votes to install Judge Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.
The budget problem is further compounded by Congress taking a roughly two-week recess starting Friday. House and Senate appropriators purportedly will have a bill ready in the final week of April — which doesn’t leave much time before the deadline.
Ryan signaled Tuesday that congressional Republicans would still revisit ObamaCare, suggesting some foes of the last bill have offered to compromise but making clear that the more immediate focus is on tax reform and other big policy issues.
“We want to get this right. We are going to keep talking to each other,” he said. “But I’m not going to put a timeline on it.”