House Speaker Paul Ryan may have to rely on Democrats after all.
House conservatives say that the only way they will vote for an year-end omnibus spending bill is if a number of GOP policy priorities make it into the final legislation. The only problem? House Democrats Tuesday rejected an initial Republican offer precisely because of those contested “riders.”
“What they sent over wasn’t serious,” Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, told reporters Wednesday afternoon. “It didn’t reflect our values, whether it came to the environment, workers or labor, education.”
In the wake of the budget deal, which raised spending caps by some $66 billion for this fiscal year, House Republicans on the party’s right flank say the only way they could get to yes would be if increased dollars are traded for GOP policy riders. And so far, Democrats aren’t willing to accept anything controversial.
“The Democrats want dollars, we want policy,” said Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. “So if they start ratcheting up the dollars to fit the budget deal, we ratchet up policy.”
“If you get enough you can find a way to get comfortable with the dollars,” he added.
But that only works for some Republicans. Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said it was unlikely that the House Freedom Caucus, of which he is a founding member, would officially support the final legislation because of the spending increases.
“I don’t think the Freedom Caucus as a whole will get behind the bill at any point,” he said. “I think [leadership] can draw some members into it by putting more and more policy riders in there that we like.”
Otherwise, Fleming said he expected the spending deal would need a heavy Democratic backing: “If some of the important riders are not in it, yeah, it’s going to have to be passed with Democrats mostly.”
Ryan even hedged at a press conference Monday when asked whether a majority of his conference would back the final product. “We’ll see how the process goes,” he said.
The story of major spending and budget legislation so far has in many ways been the story of the House GOP’s tumultuous year. Votes on funding the Department of Homeland Security, a short-term government spending bill and a joint debt ceiling-budget deal were passed over the objections of the majority of the Republican conference.
The pattern fed into the mounting tension within the ranks of House Republicans. It aggravated members who felt GOP leaders were kowtowing to Democratic priorities and those of the opposite opinion, who complained that many of their colleagues were voting no, but hoping yes.
Those currents are still coursing through the GOP House conference even after former Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) departure.
“Too many in our conference are falling into the pattern of voting no on tough bills while actually hoping the bill passes because they know that the outcome will be even worse if the bill fails,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) wrote in a letter to his whip team Sunday.
In a Monday sit-down with reporters, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said that members so far appreciated Ryan’s leadership because of the more open process he had committed to.
“I think members felt very positive about that, having input,” he said.
“Everybody knows at the end of the day that there are things I want that probably won’t get in the omni[bus] as well,” he continued, adding that the important thing was for members to feel like “your voice is heard.”
It seems that may be the only difference between Ryan and Boehner. But perception can be everything. In that vein, senior House appropriators held a series of “listening sessions” last month where GOP representatives could learn about individual spending bills and offer their own policy suggestions. They didn’t yield much in terms of policy agreement, but they fostered some goodwill.
Conservative House members’ almost universal goodwill for Ryan will truly be tested if he reverts to the pattern that got his predecessor ousted: passing spending legislation without the support from a majority of the majority.
But the majority is hard to please. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) ticked off a couple of Freedom Caucus priorities Monday morning, saying that the group didn’t want to “overreach.” But even as he described what he would like to see in the omnibus legislation, he admitted he probably wouldn’t vote for it.
“I’m one of the people whose has a real hard time voting for any kind of an omnibus, especially with the funding levels where they’re at,” Salmon said. “There might be something they can do to wow me.”
Republican leadership has put on an optimistic face so far. Asked Monday whether he thought his far-right colleagues could ever get on board with the omnibus bill, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) joked, “I think it’s going to be such a great bill, that everyone will clamor to get on board.”