Georgia U.S. Rep. Tom Graves had a plan to aid his Republican colleagues as they prepare to face a wave of angry voters during the upcoming August recess.
President Donald Trump’s supporters — many of whom also make up the political base for GOP lawmakers — are livid at Congress’ glacial pace advancing the White House’s top priorities, including replacing Obamacare, overhauling the tax code and building a wall on the southern border.
So as an upward-bound member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, Graves pitched an unusual proposal: package together all 12 of the spending bills that collectively fund the government and pass them at once instead of one by one. The rush order would provide the base with some much-needed red meat, proving to frustrated voters back home that House conservatives were acting on their key campaign promises.
The aim was to “show the American people what we believe … and put our best Republican plan forward,” said Graves, R-Ranger.
The unorthodox plan still would have required the GOP to negotiate with Democrats at the end of the day since Republicans are eight votes shy of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. But Graves said it would put the House in a better negotiating position. And it would prove that the Republican House was capable of breaking through the political morass that has stunted much of the GOP’s agenda on Capitol Hill.
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Hopes were high among Republican voters that unified control of the Congress and White House for the first time in a decade would lead to guaranteed victories on long-sought-after issues. But with Democrats still able to filibuster and the GOP lawmakers deeply divided on key issues, it hasn’t worked out that way. The party has struggled to advance even routine legislation such as a budget.
As the Senate’s divisions over health care were being laid bare, Graves’ proposal began gaining steam across the Capitol. The Appropriations Committee stepped on the gas pedal, working late into the night to cram much of its fiscal 2018 workload, which typically takes months, into only a few weeks.
The committee produced legislation that would set aside $1.6 billion for constructing a wall on the Mexican border, eliminate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s climate change program and strike at the core of Obamacare by barring the Internal Revenue Service from enforcing the law’s individual mandate.
And for a few days, it appeared GOP leaders were on board with getting the Republican spending plan passed off the House floor before lawmakers left for the five-week recess on July 28. But they pulled the plug after members of the party’s vote-counting team came back with a host of undecided responses. They wanted to avoid the embarrassing prospect of a spending measure failing on the House floor.
Graves and other members of the Appropriations Committee fumed.
“Members just needed another day or two to get their questions answered,” said Graves, who helps count votes for GOP leaders. “Apparently, that arbitrary deadline (of the August recess) played into this decision-making, unfortunately.”
U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative congressmen, expressed a similar sentiment.
“There is an overwhelming frustration that this looks like this is the same pattern — that we are (on) the same spinning hamster wheel that we’ve been on for the last few years,” Walker told Roll Call.
Party leaders ultimately chose to scale back Graves’ initial plan for the House to pass 12 bills in one. They instead aim to pass four, the most popular national security-oriented measures, next week.
There’s now a sense that the remaining eight bills may not see floor action before the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year. That would put the unified GOP Congress in the position of passing a stopgap spending bill or — even worse — facing a shutdown showdown in the fall.
“Some will say that the status quo is still in existence,” Graves said.