The Senate plans to pass a spending bill Wednesday morning to keep the U.S. government running, leaving hours to spare for the House to vote before a potential shutdown.
“I’m optimistic it will pass” in the House, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, told reporters Tuesday. He also said that he, House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama plan to start discussions soon on setting government spending limits for the next two fiscal years.
Existing government funding expires at the end of the day Wednesday. The short-term spending bill, H.R. 719, would finance the government through Dec. 11.
“We’ve got a lot on our plate,” Boehner, of Ohio, said after an earlier closed-door meeting of Republicans in the House. The speaker, who plans to leave Congress at the end of October, said he’ll decide soon when to set internal party elections for his successor and possibly for other Republican leadership posts.
House Republicans met Tuesday evening to discuss their priorities and leadership. Boehner ally Tom Cole of Oklahoma said as he departed that no date had been set for a leadership election. Asked what was being accomplished with the meeting, he said, “people will feel better when they leave.”
“It was everybody saying the right things but very few specifics,” Republican Representative Peter King of New York told reporters after the session broke up. “It was candid and people talked to get it out of your system. It served a purpose. Anger was in there. There was a lot of anger from last week on all sides.”
While conservative Republicans have said they wouldn’t back any spending extension that continues to fund Planned Parenthood, the House plans to rely on Democratic votes to help pass a stopgap funding measure that includes money for the women’s reproductive health care group.
Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas said no one raised objections to the plan in the Republicans’ morning meeting.
“There will be some objections but this is going to go through,” Representative John Carter of Texas said.
Second-ranking House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland also said he expected the spending bill to pass on Wednesday, and that he didn’t expect any amendments that would cause Democrats to vote against it.
Lawmakers had struggled to advance a spending plan as a group of House Republican conservatives insisted on using it to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood. It was the latest dispute in years of conflicts between those lawmakers and Boehner, and was in part responsible for his decision to quit at the end of October.
The Republican leaders’ agreement to ignore the conservatives’ demands and vote on the spending bill this week will be only a temporary victory. It sets up another shutdown fight when short-term funding expires in December.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, the second-ranking Republican, is the front-runner to replace Boehner. Passing a six-year highway funding bill that changes the U.S. tax structure will be a top priority if he’s elected speaker, McCarthy said Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“If we pass a highway bill with tax reform at the same time, that’s policy,” McCarthy said.
Sessions said in a letter to colleagues that he is joining the potential race for majority whip, the No. 3 House Republican post. The job will become vacant if the current whip, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, wins his bid to move up to majority leader, the No. 2 job.
As Rules chairman, Sessions serves at the pleasure of the current speaker, Boehner, raising doubt about whether he would continue in the post under McCarthy.
Others who have announced they are running for whip include Scalise’s chief deputy, Patrick McHenry of North Carolina and another Scalise deputy, Dennis Ross of Florida. Representative Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma is also considering a bid.
King, said he wants the leadership election to be held as soon as possible. The threat of a government shutdown will persist in December and the next speaker will need to find a way to circumvent breakaway Republicans, he said.
“These guys have set impossible standards” that can’t be met as long as the president is a Democrat who can veto their proposals, King told reporters in the Capitol. “The enemy is not Boehner or McCarthy -- it’s the Constitution.”
During his news conference, Boehner was asked if he planned to try to raise the U.S debt limit before resigning from Congress. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has said that the nation’s borrowing authority needs to be increased before late October or the U.S. could default on its obligations.
There are “a number of issues” he hopes to take up, Boehner said. Two days ago, he said that “I don’t want to leave my successor a dirty barn” on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”
The speaker was pressed on whether he worried about blowback on McCarthy or Scalise if he tried to push through controversial items against objections by conservatives.
“We’ll take this one day at a time and do what we can on behalf of the American people,” he said.
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