WASHINGTON – The threat of a partial government shutdown intensified Thursday as Senate Democrats indicated they had the votes to block a short-term spending bill, according to multiple congressional aides, and GOP leaders pressured recalcitrant lawmakers to resist joining an effort to change the measure.
The House is expected to vote later Thursday on a spending bill that would keep the government funded through Feb. 16. Though Republicans control more than enough votes to pass the bill without Democratic support, House GOP leaders on Thursday were still trying to wrangle support out of the party's conference and said things were headed in the right direction.
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"I'm not the whip, but I feel good," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) told reporters as he headed into late-afternoon votes. The spending bill cleared a procedural vote in the House moments later.
At the same time, the leader of a group of about three-dozen hard-line House conservatives said Republican leaders had stopped negotiating with his group.
"They say they have the votes so I'm just assuming they have the votes," said Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus. Asked how many members of his group were in opposition, Mr. Meadows said "enough," raising the possibility of a rocky vote later Thursday. The bill needs 216 votes to pass, assuming all lawmakers are present and voting; there are 238 Republicans and 193 Democrats in the House.
Mr. Meadows and Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) said earlier they had proposed several options to GOP leaders that would boost elements of military spending but that their request had been denied.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, where lawmakers from both parties declared their opposition in growing numbers Thursday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell encouraged Republicans in a private email and at a closed-door lunch Thursday to stick together and vote for the spending bill, GOP aides and lawmakers said.
Congressional leaders, unable to resolve differences over an array of policy fights that are tied to spending, have passed three interim funding bills this fiscal year, including two in December. Now, some members of both parties are growing weary of such short-term bills, for varying reasons.
Republican defense hawks want a deal that raises spending caps on the Pentagon. On the Democratic side, lawmakers say they want more stability in programs such as the Children's Health Insurance Program and more money for areas affected by natural disasters, and also hope to capitalize on leverage to get a broader immigration deal.
The upshot is that while stopgap measures have helped lawmakers kick tougher fights down the road, more and more lawmakers seem ready to engage in the battle.
Mr. Meadows, of the Freedom Caucus, said he wouldn't buckle under pressure from GOP leaders to go along with the short-term deal.
"I don't get squeezed. I squeeze others," he said.
If a deal doesn't emerge by 12:01 on Saturday morning, the government would partially shut down. Federal workers who are deemed nonessential would be furloughed, many federal contracts with businesses would be suspended and government services that support private firms would be halted.
House Democrats, for their part, are expected to hold firm in opposition of the spending bill unless other priorities get resolved.
"This is like giving you a bowl of doggy doo, put a cherry on top and call it chocolate sundae," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), said Thursday.
In the Senate, Republicans seemed to be bracing for a collapse in talks. "The leader has signaled that we ought to have flexible plans and prepare in case we lose the vote," said Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.).
President Donald Trump injected uncertainty into the debate earlier Thursday when he appeared to criticize House GOP leaders' decision to include a six-year reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program in the one-month spending bill. Funding for that program, which covers about 9 million low-income children, ended last September.
"CHIP should be part of a long term solution, not a 30 Day, or short term, extension!" Mr. Trump tweeted.
Mr. Ryan said he had spoken to Mr. Trump Thursday and that the president supported the spending bill, which the White House later confirmed.
Immigration has become part of the spending fight since Mr. Trump in September ended an Obama-era program shielding so-called Dreamers, immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, from deportation. He gave Congress until March to negotiate a replacement to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, and some Democrats, knowing their votes are needed for spending bills, have been pushing to reach an broader immigration agreement that protects such Dreamers.
Senate Democrats who are up for re-election this year in states that Mr. Trump won in 2016 are facing particular pressure to avoid a shutdown. While many say they are undecided, so far only Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has said he would support the stopgap measure.
But more Democrats, even those who backed the short-term spending bill in December, are opposing the House bill. Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, who represent a high number of federal employees whose jobs could be disrupted if the government partially shuts down, voiced opposition on Thursday.
The House bill "punts budget discussions until mid-February," Messrs. Kaine and Warner said in a joint statement. "Congress should remain in session with no recess until we work out a long-term bipartisan budget deal that addresses all issues." They added that they would back a very short-term bill that would keep funding for a few days while Congress addresses other issues.
Spending bills need 60 votes to pass the Senate, where Republicans hold 51 seats. At least three GOP senators have said they would oppose the short-term spending bill: Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mike Rounds of South Dakota and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) is absent due to brain cancer, so GOP leaders would need at least 13 Democratic votes.
Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah voted against the last continuing resolution and generally opposes stopgap measures. He has declined to voice his support for this bill.
Mr. Rounds is holding out for an agreement with more money and certainty for the military. He backs a spending measure that would last for a few days.
"At this stage of the game, it's going to depend on what the House sends over to us, and whether or not the folks who are part of the defense team over there feel as though they've made enough progress to where we can actually go back to Defense and say we have made a difference," he said.
But Senate Republicans said Mr. McConnell made clear in their lunch that he didn't favor the idea of a one- or two-day spending patch. Keeping the pressure on could favor Democrats tactically, a Senate GOP aide said.
Write to Natalie Andrews at Natalie.Andrews@wsj.com, Kristina Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org and Siobhan Hughes at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 18, 2018 17:24 ET (22:24 GMT)
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