WASHINGTON -- House Republican leaders Monday finally agreed to execute a government funding strategy conservatives and defense hawks have been pushing for months: fully fund the Department of Defense through the end of fiscal 2018 while keep the remaining agencies running on a stopgap continuing resolution.
The play call in advance of the Thursday government funding deadline all but assures a volley with the Senate, which is expected to reject the House GOP measure. The bill would include the $659 billion defense appropriations bill the House passed last week, which waives the defense cap, and a continuing resolution for remaining agencies through March 23.
"Speaker (Paul D.) Ryan is again considering a cromibus, a short-term extension of funding for urgent domestic priorities but a long-term extension and a large increase in funding for defense to placate the ultraconservatives in his caucus," Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said in floor remarks Monday before House GOP leaders had announced the plan.
The New York Democrat cited a letter he sent to Ryan last year with 44 Senate Democrats saying they would not support a cromnibus. Only 41 votes are needed to filibuster the spending bill.
"If he lets the Freedom Caucus be the tail that wags the dog, there's no way we'll reach an agreement that can pass the Senate," Schumer said.
But House GOP leaders are moving forward with the plan despite Schumer's warning, with backing from the vast majority of their conference.
The cromnibus idea has been pushed for months not just by the Freedom Caucus but by the Republican Study Committee, the larger conservative caucus, and defense hawks on the Armed Services Committee.
"I thought it has been the right move for some time," RSC Chairman Mark Walker said Monday after leaders announced the plan during a Monday evening conference meeting.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., made the case during that meeting that timing is important, and Walker said he understood the argument for executing the plan now.
"You look at it from a political strategic standpoint, the Democrats have made several bad decisions and several bad moves, notwithstanding from the shutdown we've talked about," Walker, R-N.C, said. "But I believe this is the right season, the right time because it's going to be a very difficult vote for some of the people. And we hope their heart is in the right place and they will support our military and defense."
Many House Republicans expressed similar hope that the Senate would pass the bill but acknowledged the likelihood it would be rejected and amended with an alternative the House will have to later consider.
"I think everybody's realistic enough to understand that -- but remember we'll have every Democrat in the Senate on record," Alabama Rep. Bradley Byrne, a defense hawk, said. "And we'll have them on record shutting down the government, again."
House Democrats will also be on record, likely with most in opposition.
"We'll urge our people to vote no on that," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer told Roll Call when asked about the GOP plan.
"The premise that it hurts defense is correct," the Maryland Democrat said of a CR. "The premise that it doesn't hurt others -- every agency of government is devastated by the failure to have the opportunity to plan, to apply money to enter into contracts, to hire people. It is incredible that we're now four-plus months into the fiscal year and they still don't have an agreement on how were going to fund the government."
Hoyer said he would hope the Senate would reject such an imbalanced funding plan and send something better back to the House, even though that may interfere with House Democrats' plans to be in Cambridge, Md., for their annual retreat Wednesday through Friday.
"We'll be here," he said of such a scenario. "If we need to be here, we'll be here."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is likely to take up the House funding bill, even if it fails to meet a procedural hurdle needed to move forward.
"Last week a bipartisan majority in the House passed a bill that would fund our national defense through fiscal year 2018," he said in floor remarks Monday afternoon. "The Senate will soon take up this House-passed bill."
(Morgan Cahn contributed to this report.)
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