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Shutdown watch: Key House vote Tuesday but Senate changes expected

House Republican leaders have the votes to pass a bill Tuesday to fund the government through March 23, with a full defense appropriations bill attached to the measure, as well as two years of funding for community health centers.

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Phil Mattingly (CNN)
WASHINGTON (CNN) — House Republican leaders have the votes to pass a bill Tuesday to fund the government through March 23, with a full defense appropriations bill attached to the measure, as well as two years of funding for community health centers.

This is the start of the real work -- but far from the finish line. What will the final funding bill look like? Well, that's up to the US Senate. In the meantime, the government shuts down in less than 72 hours.

Bottom line: Major changes are coming to the House proposal when it crosses the Capitol to the Senate -- and House Republicans know that. Senate GOP aides acknowledge the defense funding piece will be stripped out, but what will be added in its place is still very up in the air. What's on the table: Potentially a very big deal. Or just more can-kicking.

Will there be a government shutdown?

According to senior aides -- and lawmakers -- in both parties, in both chambers, no.

What a 'big deal' rests on

A budget caps deal. This is the trigger -- and, to be frank, has been for months. If Democratic and Republican negotiators lock in an agreement to raise budget caps on defense spending and non-defense domestic spending, that will open up everything else.

What a big deal could include:

Budget caps deal, which would allow appropriators to draft an omnibus spending bill by March 23 Disaster relief package Community health center funding/various health care extenders Debt ceiling increase

Just to be clear here: This would be a major, major development if negotiators could get this done.

It would clear the decks and lock in some modicum of bipartisanship in advance of the Senate floor debate on immigration. Both parties would be able to claim major victories (Republicans on defense, Democrats on domestic spending.)

And because of that: There's still a healthy amount of skepticism this can actually get done, especially in such a short time period. As Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, a veteran appropriator, told CNN on Thursday with a grin: "I wouldn't bet my house on it." But this is by far the most optimistic I've heard aides about this in weeks, if not months.

What's the hold up?

Over the past few months, it's been two things: "parity," i.e. Democrats saying any spending increases for defense must be matched on the non-defense side, and, of course, a solution for the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The latter has been the real hang-up, and sources tell CNN they are pretty much there on topline funding numbers for the deal. There is more work to do to hammer out the final agreement, these sources say, but the very clear elephant in the room is DACA.

Where are House Democrats?

The overhanging reality in the talks about potentially locking in a major agreement this week is Democrats will be needed in both chambers to muscle it to passage. Not so much an issue in the Senate. But without a DACA resolution in sight, a potentially major issue in the House.

Would House Democrats, who have made clear they want to hold off on a caps deal until DACA is solved, give the votes to pass a large-scale deal? That's still an open question -- and a potentially significant gamble by the Senate if they move forward without those assurances.

What if there is no 'big deal'?

Senate GOP and Democratic aides say expect the chamber to take up the House bill, strip the defense funding because Democrats won't accept it on the measure, potentially add some disaster relief money and possibly a few other smaller provisions where there is bipartisan agreement, then send it back to the House.

Can House GOP leaders pass a short-term spending bill without defense: Great question. Aides seem unconcerned at the moment -- it's no secret the Senate will strip the defense piece from this bill, so they know it's going to be volleyed back before the Thursday funding deadline.

How this will work?

House Republicans will pass their continuing resolution defense funding bill Tuesday and send it to the Senate.

The Senate will separately take up the House-passed defense funding bill. They don't have the votes to move that forward, so it's largely an exercise in showing it will fail.

Once the House sends its continuing resolution over to the Senate, the Senate will prepare to move onto that.

Then we wait to see what they put into the bill -- and what the result of the intense behind the scenes negotiations are at the moment.

When will this all get done: Even though House Democrats are scheduled to leave for their party retreat on Wednesday, most aides expect there will need to be final votes on a funding bill as late as Thursday before the deadline. At the moment, however, the timing is fluid.

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