A short-term spending agreement to keep the federal government open for another week overwhelmingly passed Congress on Friday.
The House voted 382 to 30 on Friday to approve the deal and the Senate unanimously approved it a short time later. House and Senate negotiators are set to work through the weekend to finalize a longer-term deal that would fund the government through the end of the fiscal year in September.
Top staff and leaders on the appropriations committees had tried late Thursday to reach a longer agreement but were unable to resolve differences on several unrelated policy measures that have plagued the process since the beginning, according to several congressional aides familiar with the talks.
“We’re willing to extend things for a little bit more time in hopes that the same sort of progress can be made,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Friday morning.
A late push to act on new health-care legislation had threatened the bipartisan spending deal and for now that debate remains in flux.
Leaving a 90-minute meeting in the office of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) late Thursday night, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said there would be no health-care vote Friday and that the main focus of the impromptu huddle was to ensure that the leadership had the votes to pass the one-week funding bill.
“We are not voting on health-care tomorrow,” McCarthy said, denying that leaders had ever wanted to vote by Friday.
“We’re still educating members,” he said, adding: “We’ve been making great progress. As soon as we have the votes, we’ll vote on it.”
On Friday morning, House GOP leaders were closing in on the votes needed to pass a health overhaul, but no vote is expected in the coming days, according to a senior House GOP aide who was not authorized to speak publicly about ongoing discussions.
The failure to revive the health-care bill was yet another blow to President Trump as he nears the 100-day mark on Friday. While congressional leaders in both parties focused this week on keeping the government open, Trump, Vice President Pence and other top administration officials launched dual attempts to pressure Republican lawmakers into a new agreement to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
In recent weeks, Trump plowed into health-care negotiations not only by wooing members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus but by trying to forge a bond with Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), the co-chairman of the Tuesday Group, a group of moderate Republicans. He was the only moderate represented in the recent talks.
Instead of delving into details, MacArthur and Trump would often talk about the president’s late father, Fred, whose black-and-white portrait sits alone and prominent on a desk in the Oval Office.
“I knew his father for many years and have handled his insurance,” MacArthur, a former insurance executive, said. “Fred had thousands of apartments in Brooklyn and I’d go out with him to settle claims, sitting in the back of the car with him and talking.”
Trump also relished stories of “Fred and I getting sandwiches,” he added. “I told him I saw that same decisive way, the same humor.”
By last weekend, the amendment crafted by MacArthur to give states flexibility over insurance regulations and mandates became the crux of the White House’s deal with the Tuesday Group and the Freedom Caucus, with MacArthur at the center.
MacArthur said there is more of Fred in Trump than people realize: “He reach out again and again, in determination.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a senior member of the Freedom Caucus, said Vice President Pence also has been crucial in keeping the relationship between the White House and that bloc strong in the wake of the health-care bill falling apart last month. “I don’t know how many meetings I’ve had with him,” Jordan said. “It’s been unbelievable.”
Jordan said Pence, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney and Health and Human Service Secretary Tom Price — all former House GOP lawmakers — and longtime House aide Paul Teller, who now works at the White House, have been constantly working the Freedom Caucus for the last two weeks, often bypassing House Republican leadership as they’ve worked to revise the bill to his caucus’s liking. “We’ve talked and talked, and they’ve talked with Mark Meadows,” the HFC chairman, “every day.”
Jordan said Trump has concentrated on working Meadows while Pence has been more in touch with Jordan and other members.
“There was a while where the vice president was on Capitol Hill every day and over the recess, they’ve been keeping up with everybody by phone. Remember, the vice president was someone who was a mentor to many of us, he knows the House.”
But the stalled talks demonstrated yet again how divided Republicans remain about how to overhaul Obamacare, despite seven years of GOP promises to repeal and replace the 2010 law. Conservatives and moderates have repeatedly clashed over the contours of such a revamp, most sharply over bringing down insurance premiums in exchange for limiting the kind of coverage that is required to be offered.
As many as 15 or so House Republicans have said that they will not support the latest GOP proposal. That leaves Ryan and the White House an incredibly narrow path for passage. The speaker can lose only 22 Republicans on a health-care vote because Democrats have fiercely opposed any attempt to repeal the current health care law.
This week’s spending standoff is the first in what could be several budget battles between Congress and the White House this year. Trump has called for massive hikes to defense spending and harsh cuts to domestic agencies in his 2018 budget, a proposal that many Republicans have rejected out of hand. He is also likely to revive calls for money to begin constructing the border wall — which by some estimates would cost as much as $21 billion — in future budget negotiations.
Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were forced to negotiate with Democrats on the budget after it became clear that Republicans lacked enough votes to pass a long-term spending bill on their own. As a result, the GOP leaders have had the uncomfortable task of writing a measure that ignores nearly all of Trump’s priorities, including money for the border wall.