Political News

Shutdown watch: Are there enough House Republicans to keep the government open?

Posted January 17, 2018 8:31 a.m. EST

— Republican leaders are full speed ahead on a short-term funding bill -- now they just need the votes for it.

House GOP leaders are cautiously optimistic they can muster the votes for their short-term funding bill released Tuesday night.

Senate Republicans leaders have convinced themselves Democrats will have to peel off to support the spending package the House would send over. Senate Democrats, for their part, are still keeping their cards close to their chest.

Bottom line: Wednesday could bring a lot of clarity to whether things are about to shift to a glide path -- top GOP aides think they're edging close to that point -- or it could become clear everything is officially falling apart. All eyes are on House Republicans.

What's happening with DACA talks?

Nothing productive, according to aides in both parties from both chambers.

How does a deal to address the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program get done, asks one senior Republican aide.

"No idea. Ask the President. Until he decides what he really wants, nothing moves."

Sometime Wednesday, the "Gang of Six" will release the full details of their proposal. Republican leaders remain dead set against it, but look out for added co-sponsors as the try and reacquire some kind -- any kind -- of momentum.

President Donald Trump will also be on Capitol Hill for a ceremony later in the day. Nothing is on the schedule yet for other meetings, but aides say it's possible he stops into a leadership office or two.

What matters Wednesday: House Republicans

Tuesday night was a bit of a roller coaster for House GOP leaders. A closed-door conference meeting where they presented their short-term funding bill -- funds the government until February 16, delays three unpopular taxes from the Affordable Care Act, extends the Children's Health Insurance Program for six years -- to plenty of grumbles, but mostly acceptance that it was the only path forward.

In fact, one senior GOP aide told me after the meeting: "Huh. That went ... really well?" (Yes, positive meetings can be a surprise to even the most seasoned aides when it comes to government spending bills.)

But then 90 minutes later, the House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows emerged from their own closed door meeting to announce the votes weren't there for the leadership's proposal -- and the conservative caucus had demands, throwing the entire Republican strategy -- House, Senate and White House -- into question.

How to read this: Leadership aides were telling allies Tuesday night they thought they could still get the votes for their proposal, despite the resistance from House Freedom Caucus members. They will whip the vote -- hard -- Wednesday, to try and set up a Thursday vote to pass the proposal.

Here's the reality: If you don't give House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, this short-term spending bill, he's going to have to negotiate with Democrats (or the Senate has to go first on this, which creates a whole new set of messes). Republicans don't want to deal with Democrats on this. So, getting their votes on their own, however much they hate continuing resolutions, is the logical path forward.

A second reality: The delay of the three Obamacare taxes is something the entire GOP conference not only supports, but strongly advocates. It's important to multiple constituencies, not the least of which, are some donors rather flush with cash. It's a carrot that's very real and tough to vote against.

And along those lines: The Freedom Caucus is precisely why Senate Democrats were mostly keeping their powder dry on Tuesday regarding a possible shutdown. No sense in taking a hard position when, as one aide put it, "House Republicans have a history of stepping on their own rakes."

And when one senior aide was informed of Meadows' comments Tuesday night potentially rejecting the House GOP plan, he texted simply: "Game on."

So where are Democrats?

Waiting. A lot hinges on what happens in the House. If House Republicans can't get their own spending bill across the finish line, a whole new world of negotiating possibilities could open up. Until then, it has been communicated, sources tell CNN, that weighing in with a definitive yes-or-no answer on how they'd vote on a government funding bill isn't helpful or productive.

Keep in mind on this: Should House Republicans pass their short-term spending bill, it's a very, very tough vote for Senate Democrats. Not only does it include funding the government, it also extends CHIP for six years with no pay-fors Democrats hate. And those Obamacare tax delays? Yes, many Democrats are very supportive of those as well.

In other words: "It's a nasty 'no' vote for them," one GOP aide said last night. "Just nasty."

That said, don't underestimate the base pressure, don't underestimate the pressure inside the Democratic caucus, to have this fight and have it now. It's just not clear if that will be enough to tip the scales given the political ramifications of voting against the spending bill.