Rank-and-file House Republicans, frustrated by the lack of wins on crucial spending issues, are pushing GOP leaders to get more partisan.
Support is building among members to make a more aggressive push for Republican priorities in this year’s appropriations process, despite private worries from some leaders and appropriators about a short window before the August recess and the risk of embarrassment if a GOP spending bill fails to clear the notoriously divided House Republican conference.
The debate will come to a head during a closed-door meeting Wednesday that is likely to highlight early fissures within the GOP conference.
Appropriations cardinal Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) first proposed the idea of voting this summer on a Republican spending package decorated with GOP goodies this summer. Some House appropriators who like the idea are moving full steam ahead to write the bill, multiple sources said. And supporters argue that while their idea will never pass the Senate, it will buy the leadership goodwill with the conference while giving Republicans a leg up on spending negotiations with Democrats this fall.
“I think it’s vitally important that we as a Republican conference put our marker down as to what we believe and what we stand for, and let’s pass a conservative House Republican funding package,” Graves said in an interview. “I think the conference is ready and desires to vote on our vision for the Republican Party, and aligning that as best as we can with the administration’s priorities.”
House Republicans during the Wednesday conference are expected to consider whether to pursue the Graves plan. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will lay out several alternatives as well, including a “security bus” — a smaller, national security GOP appropriations package that would boost the military.
Nobody appears to want to make a firm decision. GOP leaders on Wednesday will encourage the conference to plot a path forward. Appropriators, meanwhile, say they’re waiting for guidance from leadership.
It’s an awkward situation because the proposal even pits appropriators against appropriators. While several appropriators — including top cardinals with subcommittee gavels — back the idea, others privately are grumbling and hoping leadership will pan it altogether.
Republican House members who’ve campaigned on fiscal responsibility their entire careers hoped they’d finally get to pass more GOP spending priorities now that their party controls the White House and Congress. But they’re increasingly resigned to the fact nothing has really changed since Senate rules require eight Democrats to do virtually anything.
Enter Graves, the financial services subcommittee chairman close to GOP leaders. He pitched his fellow appropriators and McCarthy on the idea of passing a GOP spending package about six weeks ago — even if it doesn’t pass the Senate. And he presented the proposal to members a few weeks ago, arguing it allows Republicans to show constituents what they would support if they could pass something without Democrats.
Many Republicans, frustrated by the lack of input they’ve had on appropriations bills that have been stalled in recent years, applauded. They envision something like ex-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) put on the floor in early 2011, when Republicans first seized the majority, and over the course of several days, voted on hundreds of amendments on a massive GOP spending package.
“We’re 100 percent behind the Graves idea," said Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker (R-N.C.), whose group has endorsed the plan. "If we get past August, and then we’re in September, and then there is some kind of roll-out and in 24 hours you’ve got to vote on something that you’re still trying to process and read, it’s not going to be a good thing.”
Walker said conservatives are willing to deal with higher spending levels if they can offer amendments with their own priorities.
“I think it’s a great idea!” said conservative Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), a Freedom Caucus member. “It would help focus the country.”
But some in leadership and on appropriations are concerned about time — particularly after lawmakers lost last week after Wednesday’s congressional baseball practice shooting.
If appropriators work every day from now until the end of the July, they may be able to finish the package. It would likely have to go straight to the floor, probably the last week before the August recess, in what’s bound to be a tedious process for staff who will work nonstop to get hundreds of amendments lined up and ready — just as they did in 2011.
There’s also concern about an already packed July calendar. The House will also have to pass a potentially more-moderate Obamacare replacement and probably raise the debt ceiling — two controversial votes that will be a heavy lift for GOP leaders.
Even if Republicans could finish the bill and find time to vote, leadership is also concerned about doing all the leg work only to find that it can’t pass. They want Republicans to commit to supporting their GOP legislation — even if some of their prized amendments go down.
Some also expect moderates to balk at taking tough votes for nothing, given the bill is essentially a public relations statement and will have no chance of becoming law. Controversial amendments dealing with government contractors and hiring practices for gay applicants, or the confederate flag, are likely to surface — votes Republicans typically try to avoid.
Still, many in the conference say it’s time for change. And they want to show the GOP base they’re trying.
“The last election is not far from our memory, and we cannot ignore what people all across this country said… ‘Go clean things up, get spending under control, rebuild our military,’" Graves said. "We’ve got a chance to show the American people what that is, and this is our one opportunity to do that."
John Bresnahan contributed to this report.