Congress has until midnight Thursday to pass a fiscal 2018 spending bill, or more likely a fifth straight stopgap spending measure, and House Republicans unveiled their opening gambit on Monday night. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) proposed to his caucus a bill that would fund the government at current levels until March 23, with the exception of the Defense Department, which would get a $30 billion boost and be funded for the rest of the fiscal year. The proposal, which also funds community health centers, is expected to pass with GOP votes in the House but die in the Senate.
Lawmakers made progress Monday on a full-year spending package, including a boost to domestic spending Democrats are demanding to match the boost in military spending pushed by Republicans. Senate Democrats won't approve a stopgap House measure that funds only the military. Republicans "don't want to work in a bipartisan fashion, and I think it's the message they've been sending for the last 13 months," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). "They want to do it their way or no way."
If the House sends the Senate the current proposal, the Senate would likely strip out the full-year military part and send it back to the House. All of this has to take place in a 72-hour period in which House Democrats are supposed to leave Washington for their annual policy retreat and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has promised to hold a vote on legislation to protect DREAMers. Peter Weber
Republicans have another short-term spending bill to avert a shutdown, but they may not have the votes
House Republican leaders proposed a fourth stopgap spending measure to their caucus on Tuesday night, betting that a few popular sweeteners and opposition from Democratic leaders would drum up enough GOP support to send the measure to the Senate, with or without Democratic votes. The continuing resolution would finance the government at current levels through Feb. 16, delay several ObamaCare-related taxes for a year or two, and finance the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for six years. The third and current short-term spending package expires at midnight Friday.
The spending bill needs 218 votes in the House, and most Republicans reportedly backed the measure Tuesday night, sometimes unenthusiastically. But House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) balked. "Based on the number of 'no' and undecided votes, there is not enough votes for a Republican-only bill," he said, dismissing the ObamaCare tax delays as a "gimmick." In the Senate, nine Democrats would have to vote with every Republican to pass the resolution, and Democrats are threatening to withhold their votes unless Republicans include a solution for DREAMers, the 700,000 young immigrants who are already losing their work permits and face deportation starting in March under President Trump's executive order.
Trump and Republicans are banking on Democrats folding, arguing that not voting to avert the first government shutdown since 2013 would harm the military (a decision that appears to rest at least in part with Trump, who can exempt "essential" personnel). Government shutdowns when one party controls both Congress and the White House are rare. "We don't need any Democrats in the House," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). "And I don't think the Democrats in the Senate have the nerve to shut down the government." Lawmakers are working to salvage a bipartisan plan to protect DREAMers, but are pessimistic they would have it ready by Friday, especially with the White House calling it dead on arrival. Peter Weber
The Senate approved late Monday a 1,215-page, $700 billion defense policy bill that would give the Pentagon a larger budget than at any time since at least 2001, when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. The bill now goes to a House-Senate conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate versions. The Senate's 89-8 vote signifies broad support for raising military spending after years of caps from a bipartisan deal that neither party liked, amid growing threats from North Korea and Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) contention that underfunding training and equipment has contributed to the death or injury of nearly 100 service members in a series of accidents since mid-July.
The defense bill does not close military bases, as Defense Secretary James Mattis had requested, nor would it tackle a series of policy issues like transgender service members or North Korea sanctions, but it does include a government-wide ban on software from Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Labs. The $640 billion for Pentagon operations like buying weapons and paying troops was $37 billion more than President Trump had requested, but the $60 billion for wartime missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere was $5 billion less. Peter Weber
Obama's budget would allow for de-funding of program that allows veterans to seek care outside of VA system
The Obama administration is seeking to allow the diversion of funding from a program the president signed into law just in August, after much dispute.
The Veterans Choice Program, authored by Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, provides military vets with a "choice" card that allows them to seek healthcare more quickly at designated facilities outside the dysfunctional Veterans Affairs medical system. The Department of Veterans Affairs, though, says many Choice card holders aren't using their cards, and that most veterans prefer receiving treatment at VA facilities.
The administration's 2016 budget proposal seeks to send the program's funding, which was reportedly designed to continue until 2017, elsewhere. According to the Washington Examiner, Obama's legislative proposal "would allow the VA to raid the program's funding, now set at $10 billion."
Obama, the Examiner goes on, "said the money is needed 'to support essential investments in VA system priorities in a fiscally responsible, budget-neutral manner.'"
Republicans have said they won't support the reallocation of funds, arguing that throwing money at the VA will not fix the department's problems, and that real reform is needed.
Obama's spending bill requests a budget increase of nearly eight percent for the VA, and many fellow Democrats have joined the president in pushing for more money for the VA to build new hospitals and pay more doctors. Teresa Mull