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House Republicans prepare to go it alone on government funding stopgap measure

The House Freedom Caucus isn't making it easy for Republican leaders to keep the government funded.

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Lauren Fox
Deirdre Walsh (CNN)
(CNN) — The House Freedom Caucus isn't making it easy for Republican leaders to keep the government funded.

Just hours after House Republican leaders planned to press ahead on a plan to try to keep the government open without their Democratic colleagues in the House, conservatives in their own ranks told reporters they believed the votes weren't there to pass a bill with just Republicans.

"Currently, just based on the number of 'nos' and 'undecideds' in the Freedom Caucus, there's not enough support to pass this with GOP-only votes," House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows told reporters.

Republican leadership briefed their conference Tuesday night on a plan that would keep the government open until mid-February, fund the Children's Health Insurance Program for six years and delay key Obamacare taxes.

That plan, Meadows argued, didn't do enough to give assurance to the military. Meadows said Tuesday night that the House Freedom Caucus either wanted to see a one-year defense funding bill attached to the short-term continuing resolution -- a nonstarter when the caucus pushed for it in December -- or wanted to see Republican leaders include more funding of defense anomalies.

The Freedom Caucus' tone differed greatly from the mood of the conference hours earlier. As members emerged from leadership's briefing Tuesday night, many rank-and-file members -- from defense hawks to fiscal conservatives -- seemed reluctant but ready to lend their support if they had to.

"This is moving in the right direction. It buys us time. It presents the Democrats with some tough choices," Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma, had said.

Members bemoaned the need for another stopgap measure -- the fourth in just six months -- but members inside the conference meeting Tuesday night described an atmosphere that was mostly supportive of Republican leaders, who many admitted had little choice than to put another short-term spending bill on the floor.

"I thought the reaction was pretty positive even though there were a lot of people saying -- and rightfully so -- 'God, here we go again,' " said Rep. Mike Simpson, a Republican from Idaho.

While longer-term spending negotiations were still ongoing, Democrats have dug in their heels and demanded that no spending caps be agreed to until there is a deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which expires on March 5. Democrats have said they want assurances that DACA recipients are protected before agreeing to an omnibus spending bill, the best leverage they believe they have. And even on the short-term continuing budget resolution, many Democrats say they want an answer on DACA before they vote again to fund the government.

Earlier on Tuesday, Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, said a deal on DACA needed to be part of a funding bill in order to get Democratic support.

That puts the onus on House leaders, who have to find a way to convince both defense hawks and fiscal conservatives to go along with a short-term spending deal one more time. Republican leaders are expected to formally whip the proposal Wednesday, but the House Freedom Caucus' comments Tuesday cast doubt on the operation, after even some prominent conservatives seemed to be leaning toward supporting the continuing resolution Tuesday before the caucus met.

"What other option to we have?" asked Rep. Mo Brooks, a Republican from Alabama, who said he was leaning "yes."

"You're going to vote 'no' and then shut down the government?" asked Rep. Mark Sanford, a Republican from South Carolina, when asked if the House Freedom Caucus was doing little more than paving the way for a big increase in spending in a later deal by supporting short-term continuing resolutions.

Leadership also had to convince defense hawks to back another short-term spending bill after they've said repeatedly that they have deep concerns about how that could affect the military.

GOP Rep. Bradley Byrne of Alabama said he was "struggling" with his vote.

"Continuing resolutions are hurting the readiness of our troops, endangering our troops, and for those of us defense hawks, we find it very difficult to support CRs," Byrne said. "The alternative is to let the Democrats crash the whole government, and that's what they are trying to do."

In the Senate, more uncertainty looms. There, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell must win Democratic votes, and many senators were still not saying Tuesday how they'd vote on a short-term continuing resolution.

"I'm just tired of voting for CRs," said Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats.

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