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GOP faces internal rift on government spending

GOP faces internal rift on government spending

House and Senate conservatives are pressing for any stopgap funding measure to prevent a government shutdown to run through the beginning of next year, setting up an intraparty rift. 

The conservatives want to delay any long-term funding decision until next year because it could give Republicans more leverage and input if the party wins back the House or Senate in November’s midterm elections. 

The push is opposed by other Republicans, particularly appropriators, who say it could hurt funding for key GOP priorities such as defense. 

They want to approve a short-term funding measure until after the elections to buy time to negotiate a longer deal in the lame-duck session — when Democrats would still be in charge of both chambers regardless of the November outcome. 

“We should do our job while we’re here,” Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee who is set to retire at the end of his term, told reporters Tuesday. He is aiming to cut a final spending deal before he leaves Congress.

Congress must pass some kind of funding bill before Oct. 1 to prevent a shutdown. 

But the resistance on the right to a short-term measure, known as a continuing resolution (CR), is a complication a little more than a week before the deadline. 

The House Freedom Caucus is imploring colleagues to reject any stopgap funding bill that comes up this month if it doesn’t extend the funding deadline through at least early January. 

“We call on each and every Republican to vote ‘no’ — vote ‘no’ to continued spending that supports these outrageous policies, especially when reinforcements are just over — just over the horizon,” Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said at a press conference last week. “Why would Republicans cast one vote in favor of this tyranny?”

Rep. Chip Roy (Texas) led a group of more than 40 House Republicans in a pledge to vote against any continuing resolution that expires before the start of the next Congress. The group also included some Republicans who are not members of the Freedom Caucus, including Reps. Jim Banks (Ind.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, Kat Cammack (Fla.) and Kevin Hern (Okla.).

Republicans behind the push in the House say the move is necessary to deny a Democratic-led Congress its potentially last chance at passing their agenda in the lame-duck session. 

The push is also beginning to find louder support in the Senate. 

Fourteen GOP senators this week signed a letter led by Sen. Mike Lee (Utah) that urged colleagues to reject any agreement on a stopgap bill that does not extend funding into the start of the next Congress “at a minimum.”

Other GOP senators are pushing back. 

Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), who is poised to serve as the top Republican on the appropriations panel in the next Congress, said lawmakers should wrap up its funding work in December, citing the costs of pushing the deadline. 

A big difference between a CR and the larger bill Collins and others hope to negotiate by December is that a CR keeps funding at current rates. The larger vehicle would include a number of changes to government spending, including hikes to some GOP priorities and cuts to other programs. 

“Every day that we delay is a problem for our national security because it prevents new starts and continues to fund programs that are not worthy of funding,” Collins told The Hill. “It delays the pay raise for our troops.”

“I think it makes sense to try to do our business this year if we can, so we don’t have to start from scratch next year,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told The Hill.

“Part of the problem with our defense spending is the fact that they have uncertain appropriations and so we need some certainty, I think at least for the Pentagon, on what money they can actually spend and when they can spend,” he added. 

Sens. John Barrasso (Wyo.) and Rick Scott (Fla.), both members of GOP leadership, are among the signatories of Lee’s letter pressing for new government funding to be delayed, while Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the No. 3 Republican, said he thinks the move would be a “mistake.” 

“Part of this vote is deciding if we’re going to try our best to have a bill this year or not,” Blunt, who is retiring, told The Hill on Tuesday, while speculating Congress might not see an omnibus until “sometime between late March and mid-May” if it punts negotiations to next year.

“It starts a new Congress out behind,” Blunt said, before noting the coming retirement of Shelby and Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.) is expected to succeed as top Democratic appropriator.  

“Neither Sen. Murray nor Sen. Collins, who will be the two leaders of the Appropriations Committee in the new Congress, want to start by having to do this year’s work,” he said. 

Several top Republicans have refrained from taking a side in the fight. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wouldn’t say Tuesday how long he wanted a CR to last when pressed by The Hill, and instead said: “We’re still working on the CR both in terms of what’s going to be on it and when it’s gonna expire.”

Asked about the matter Monday, Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) also said it “sounds like it’s still an open question,” while acknowledging that many Republicans “would like to see it extended into January for some very obvious reasons.”

On the House side, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) echoed the right flank’s concerns about empowering lame-duck Democrats and their priorities, citing issues at the U.S.-Mexico border rather than timing as an ultimate reason for voting against a funding measure.

“President Biden is asking for a government funding bill that simply kicks the can to an unaccountable lame-duck Congress that does nothing to actually address the nation’s problems — especially the crisis at our southern border,” McCarthy said in a statement Tuesday evening. “If Biden & Democrats don’t use this government funding bill to address the border crisis immediately, I’m voting NO on this bill, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.”

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) lamented that Democratic negotiators have not entered negotiations with House Republicans and warned that having a series of CRs could negatively affect military preparedness.

“It hurts our military, it hurts defense, and we lose about a billion dollars a month just going under short-term continuing resolution,” Scalise warned of extending continuing resolutions. “We want a full year agreement. They refuse to work with us on even that.”

The stance from the House Freedom Caucus forecasts more clashes that could emerge if Republicans win control of the chamber and have more influence over budget matters. 

In an attempt to prevent House Republican leadership from relying on Democrats to broker spending deals in the future, the Freedom Caucus has called for House GOP rules to require any legislation that passes in a GOP-controlled House to have support from a majority of the Republican conference.

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