Politics

The “Crap Sandwich” Debate

Conservatives consider whether to accept another continuing resolution or push for more.

Three congressmen talk outside the Capitol Building.
Rep. Mark Meadows (right) talks to Reps. Jim Jordan (left) and Scott Perry in front of the Capitol on Dec. 6.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Short-term continuing resolutions to keep the government open, North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker said Tuesday night following a meeting of the House GOP, “are always crap sandwiches.” And yet, Walker and the large conservative bloc he leads, the Republican Study Committee, are leaning toward voting for the crap sandwich presently before them.

Such was the overwhelming sentiment among Republicans following Tuesday night’s gathering. No one in Washington is pleased to be voting for the fourth stop-gap bill since the start of the fiscal year last fall, which represents yet another failure of Democrats and Republicans to reach a budget deal. The House Republican leadership, anticipating rage from conservatives, defense hawks, appropriators, and the not-insignificant group of moderate House Republicans who want to see a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals deal, attempted to soothe tempers by providing catered Italian food for the group before presenting the crap sandwich for dessert. It seemed, upon hearing the initial reactions from members leaving the meeting, that the ploy had mostly worked.

The spending bill that House leaders are attempting to pass would advance the ball a little bit. In addition to funding the government for four weeks, it would reauthorize for six years the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which has lapsed for months now. The bill would also delay two Obamacare taxes—the medical device tax and the Cadillac tax—for two years, and the health insurance tax for one year. It’s a clever play from Speaker Paul Ryan. The delay in taxes obviously appeals to Republicans while taking the CHIP reauthorization “off the table,” in Walker’s words, offers the party a retort to those who would say Republicans “don’t care about health insurance for children.” Those provisions are also attractive to Democrats, who want to see CHIP reauthorized and have no love for the medical device or Cadillac taxes, either. Most House Democrats, smarting over the lack of a DACA deal, won’t vote for the crap sandwich. But the design gives Republican leaders the opportunity to pick off a few Democratic votes.

They may not need them. Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, an appropriator—i.e., someone who’s not especially happy that he doesn’t have a budget framework to work with yet—said “yes,” flatly, when I asked him whether this plan would get a majority from Republicans alone.

“I think there’s an acceptance that it’s got to get done,” Simpson said. “Nobody wants to be here Saturday.”

Other members who are hardly allies of the House leadership sounded resigned to it as well. Both Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks and South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford, two conservative Freedom Caucus members who can be difficult to corral, told reporters after the meeting that they were leaning toward supporting the bill because it was either that or a shutdown.

That was not the consensus view of the Freedom Caucus. It’s not in their constitution to allow leadership’s first offer on anything to skate through without a challenge. One could almost see the wheels spinning inside the head of the group’s chairman, North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, as he tried to come up with a play following the meeting. The Freedom Caucus met after the full House GOP meeting Tuesday night, and when Meadows emerged, he insisted that GOP leaders did not yet have 218 Republicans on board. Though the Freedom Caucus didn’t take an official position against the continuing resolution, it could try to persuade leaders to either pursue a different course or offer a concession elsewhere on the agenda. Meadows proposed a hybrid bill that would fund defense spending for a year at higher levels while funding the rest of the government in the short term. We already know such a bill would fail, though, since Ryan proposed such a “cromnibus” in December and scrapped it shortly thereafter, once it became clear it was dead on arrival in the Senate. Senate Democrats are not going to agree to a bill that takes their sole source of leverage, the defense spending boost, off the table while punting on everything else.

Other Freedom Caucus members, like Virginia Rep. Dave Brat, wanted some sort of commitment from the speaker on DACA, such as an agreement to move a more conservative immigration bill, like the one authored by Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte. Leaders may have to offer up a show vote or some other tweak to mollify these conservatives ahead of the vote.

If the House GOP can resolve these issues and pass the crap sandwich with all (or nearly all) Republican votes, the pressure would then fall on Senate Democrats. Few on Capitol Hill think that the many Senate Democrats up for re-election in states Trump won would vote against a spending bill that doesn’t contain a DACA fix. They’ve already shown their cards in the past two short-term spending votes. There’s an extraordinary amount of pressure from the Democratic base on Sen. Chuck Schumer not to let slide another spending bill that doesn’t contain a DACA deal. But even if he chose to whip against it, Schumer might not possess the persuasive powers necessary to keep nine Senate Democrats from voting to keep the government open and reauthorize CHIP for six years.

The House is expected to vote on Thursday at the earliest. If the funding bill passes, expect the Senate to take it up soon after. This process could certainly fall apart in the next 24 hours, but as of now, there is a surprisingly viable strategy for keeping the government open. Never underestimate the allure of the crap sandwich.

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Jim Newell

Jim Newell is a Slate staff writer.