With the clock ticking to avoid a government shutdown on Saturday, House Republicans are pushing a stopgap measure that would keep the lights on for four more weeks and buy time for contentious negotiations on immigration and federal funding to continue.
The bill would continue federal funding at current levels through February 16, extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years, delay the implementation of a few Obamacare taxes for a year or two and allow the Defense Department to fund missile defense enhancements.
But as lawmakers look to maximize their leverage in the two days before the shutdown deadline, it’s not clear yet whether the new plan will have enough support from Republicans or Democrats to clear the House and Senate. House Republicans were looking to line up backing on Wednesday before a possible vote on Thursday, but House Speaker Paul Ryan finds himself in a spot that would look familiar to former Speaker John Boehner: stuck deciding whether to find the votes he needs from the right flank of his own party or Democrats pursuing their own agenda.
The CHIP Bargaining Chip
Some Democrats have vowed to oppose any spending bill that doesn’t include protection for immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children. But it could be difficult — and politically perilous — them to vote against funding health care for nearly 9 million children. Democrats have been pushing for CHIP funding for months, though many would prefer a 10-year extension, especially in light of a recent CBO report that says a 10-year term would actually save the government money. Republicans are betting that Democrats will see CHIP funding as attractive enough to vote for another short-term deal. And they’re daring Democrats to vote no.
"I find it difficult to believe that my Democratic colleagues would want to shut down the government for American citizens and vote down a six-year reauthorization of health insurance for American children all over illegal immigration," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
Squeezed from the Right
But as they look to exert some pressure on Democrats, Republicans leaders are once again being squeezed by the far right wing of their own party.
Members of the House Freedom Caucus are pushing for a floor vote on a conservative immigration bill in exchange for backing the short-term funding measure, according to The Hill. “If some Freedom Caucus members band together with enough defense hawks, they could tank GOP leadership’s strategy to avert a government shutdown, though it’s unclear whether there are enough of them willing to do so,” The Hill’s Melanie Zanona writes.
Adding to the uncertainty, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Wednesday that he won’t support another short-term spending bill, meaning that Republicans will need at least 10 Democratic votes for the funding bill to pass in the Senate. Eighteen Senate Democrats voted for a current continuing resolution last month, and 10 Senate Democrats are up for re-election this year in states that President Trump won in 2016.
The bottom line: We’re still closer to a shutdown than we have been at any point since 2013, but if Ryan can round up 218 votes in the House, it’s probably safe to mark February 16 on your calendar as the next big deadline. We'll likely find out Thursday.