The strategy makes an end run around House Democrats who say they were shut out of the final crafting of the disaster package, but depends on Speaker Paul Ryan being able to convince enough fiscal conservatives to support the plan. The initial signs were positive in the House.
"I think we will have the votes. I haven’t heard too much chatter against it," said Bill Flores of Texas, a former head of the conservative Republican Study Committee.
North Carolina Representative Mark Walker, the current chairman of the group, said he would prefer the package be paid for through spending cuts but said he is still studying it. House Freedom Caucus member Ted Yoho of Florida said he supports the plan.
Funding through Jan. 19
The House version of the underlying stopgap spending bill would put most agencies on autopilot through Jan. 19 while fully funding the Pentagon at a $73 billion increase. That already has been deemed unacceptable by Democratic leaders who want a similar increase for domestic agencies.
Passing the spending bill is more complicated in the Senate, where Republicans have a narrower majority and will be leaning more on Democrats for passage. There’s been no agreement on defense and domestic spending, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has several other priorities, including legislation to stabilize Obamacare insurance markets.
Senate expected to revise disaster package
The Senate is expected to reject the defense portion of the bill and revise the disaster package if the House is able to pass it. Provisions in the bill paying for a renewal of the expired Children’s Health Insurance Program are also expected to be changed. McConnell has also signaled he may move to attach an expiring electronic surveillance measure.
If those changes are added to the bill in the Senate, they would likely spark a larger rebellion from House conservatives, at which point House Democrats may use their own leverage to demand changes. Those moves would come late in the week with the shutdown deadline looming at the end of the day Dec. 22.
The disaster package is nearly double the $44 billion amount the White House sought last month. It falls short of the $94 billion Puerto Rico and $61 billion Texas have sought, though it appears to enjoy broad support from the Texas and Florida Republican delegations.
Representative Nita Lowey, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, called the package flawed.
“Despite some robust funding levels, this package fails to waive unworkable cost-share requirements, fails to address Puerto Rico’s Medicaid shortfall, neglects safe drinking water investments, and unjustifiably inserts an oversight board in Puerto Rico’s recovery. Had the majority worked with Democrats in a bipartisan way, these shortcomings could have been fixed prior to introducing the package," she said in a statement.