House GOP leaders are moving ahead with a plan to keep the government funded into mid-March, but there's a catch that Democratic leaders aren't going to like.
House Republicans plan to vote Tuesday on a bill to fund the government through March 23, with an additional sweetener of a full year of defense funding attached to the measure, notching their funding proposal just two days before the federal government runs out of money.
The additional defense money, aides say, is being attached to give GOP leaders a chance to muscle the bill across the finish line with Republican-only votes -- a necessity for wary defense hawks who have grown increasingly uneasy about the Pentagon operating on a short-term-funding-bill-to-short-term funding bill basis.
"We have to break this logjam some way," said Rep. Greg Walden, the Oregon Republican who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, of the fifth short-term funding measure.
Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows told reporters that he supports this strategy, and multiple GOP lawmakers told CNN they expected this package to pass Tuesday.
The bill also will include two years of funding for community health centers, a bipartisan priority.
But the same aides acknowledge a clear reality: the bill in its current form has no future in the US Senate. Instead, it gives Republicans yet another opportunity to tout a vote on the full defense appropriations measure -- one they've passed several times -- and pressure the Senate to take action.
"It's the only way we can get to 218 votes when the Democrats won't give any votes" on the continuing resolutions, said Michigan Republican Rep. Rep Bill Huizenga.
Asked what happens when Senate strips it out, "we'll cross that bridge when we get to it," he said.
That, at least on its face, isn't expected to work -- Senate Democrats have made clear they won't accept a short-term funding measure that fully funds defense priorities. Instead, they are looking for a broader deal -- one that Senate aides in both parties say is tantalizingly close to the finish line.
As it currently stands, negotiations to raise the so-called budget caps and lock in a two-year funding agreement that provides a significant boost in defense spending, a Republican priority, and non-defense discretionary spending, a Democratic priority, is inching closer to the finish line. Whether those talks can reach a conclusion will determine the shape of the measure the Senate considers later this week.
Aides say there is a window to lock in a budget deal that would open the door to several items in the chamber, ranging from a large disaster relief package, the community health center funding along with several other health care spending items and even a debt ceiling increase.
"There's a chance," Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranked Republican in the Senate, told reporters of the possible inclusion of a debt-limit increase in the short-term funding bill. "If we can get an agreement on caps, there's all sorts of good things that are gonna happen, including that."
But a caps deal has been close for weeks, if not months, held largely on the sidelines by Democrats wary of giving up a crucial piece of leverage as they seek a long-term resolution on immigration.
At the moment, that deal still isn't in hand, leaving the future of the final bill to keep the government open unclear.
"We have the same level of high optimism on that we've had since October," said Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of the GOP leadership team, with a grin. "Which is everybody's almost in agreement, and that's the story that does not appear to change, nor does it appear to come to conclusion."
Worst case, senators said Monday, the chamber will strip the defense funding from the House bill and move a short-term bill that includes a handful of other priorities.
"I would expect it would not include defense," Blunt said. "I think it may include a few other things. Maybe community health centers, maybe some sort of disaster -- I think there's a series of a half a dozen things, any combination of which might go on and I expect at least one or two of them would."
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