WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders are pushing a spending bill that would fund the Pentagon for a full year at $716 billion but keep domestic programs on a short leash, with only enough money to last through March 23.
The measure — which could come up for a vote in the House as early as Tuesday — is designed to satisfy hardline conservatives who are demanding a big increase in defense funding and an end to stop-gap funding bills for the military.
But the strategy is likely to hit a wall of resistance from Democrats, who want any increases in defense spending to be matched by similar hikes for domestic programs. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said such a proposal would barrel into a “dead-end.”
The federal government is currently running on its fourth short-term funding bill for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, 2017. It expires Thursday at midnight. If lawmakers don’t reach an agreement before then, it would trigger another partial government shutdown after last month’s three-day closure.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the arch-conservative House Freedom Caucus, said the push to combine a long-term military funding bill with a short-term domestic bill was a “good plan” that conservatives could support.
“It doesn’t keep our military men and women hostage so I’m very supportive of it,” Meadows told reporters Monday evening before House Republicans gathered for a strategy session.
Democrats have vowed to oppose any spending bill that short shrifts funding for veterans, opioids, transportation and other domestic priorities. Schumer called the House GOP proposal “a ruse designed to slash funding for education, healthcare, infrastructure and scientific research – all the things the Freedom Caucus doesn’t want the government to support.”
In the House, Democrats also want to address the status of Dreamers, the undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. President Trump plans to end an Obama-era program that shields those immigrants from deportation next month, leaving them in limbo.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., blasted the latest GOP plan.
“Republicans must stop governing from manufactured crisis to crisis, and work with Democrats to pass the many urgent, long overdue priorities of the American people,” she said in a statement Monday.
GOP leaders rejected that assertion.
“The only reason we need yet another CR is because Democrats continue to hold a budget agreement hostage over an unrelated issue,” said AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “Our men and women in uniform aren’t bargaining chips, and there’s no reason for Senate Democrats to keep holding our military hostage for their political ploy.”
Democrats are planning to leave Washington for their annual retreat on Wednesday, shortening the already condensed timeline.
House Democrats may not have enough votes to block the GOP bill in that chamber. But in the Senate, Democrats could move to strip out the extra funding for the Pentagon — preserving their leverage as negotiations for a broader budget agreement continue — and send the revised legislation back to the House.
That would put pressure on Meadows and other Freedom Caucus conservatives, who have said they could not vote for a fifth short-term bill that does not address military needs.
“Hopefully they won’t strip it out and hold our military men and women hostage,” said Meadows, “but if they do I’ll have to cross that bridge the day after tomorrow or whenever that comes back.”
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