Today on the Hill: House to Vote on CR with Health Care, Defense Provisions; Senate Expected to Make Changes

Last night, House Republicans released the text of the continuing resolution (CR) (section-by-section) that they anticipate passing this afternoon to keep the government running through Mar. 23, boost defense spending for the remainder of the 2018 fiscal year, and address a broad slate of health care programs. Tension over the whip count in the lower chamber has been defused after the House Freedom Caucus walked back their opposition to additional CRs and pledged to back the bill on the floor today. While almost all Democrats are likely to vote no, the strength of the Republican majority in the House should ensure relatively straightforward passage today.

The Senate, however, is looking to be a tougher challenge. With a unilateral hike in defense spending, Senate Democrats are likely to demand changes in exchange for the votes that will be needed to get past the 60-vote threshold in the upper chamber. The exact contours of that deal have yet to emerge, but may involve coupling a CR with a separate broad boost to spending levels — often referred to as a “caps deal” in Washington parlance — and another installment of disaster relief funding for Texas, Puerto Rico, and other areas still recovering from hurricanes and wildfires. Expect for more details on the Senate’s demands to leak out as the House passes the CR baton to the upper chamber.

The biggest wrinkle in this round of shutdown negotiations is what the House will do when the Senate sends back a CR that includes their changes. The House Freedom Caucus may reluctant for yet another vote on a temporary funding measure, and House Democrats are scheduled to break for their legislative retreat on the Delmarva Peninsula on Wednesday — although they would be remain available to return for a vote. Those obstacles appear manageable and another shutdown remains unlikely, but Thursday’s midnight deadline leaves little room for error. Some discussion is also emerging over a weekend-long CR that would provide more time for negotiations to unfold.

In addition to CR discussions, the House is set to vote on a food safety bill (H.R. 772) as well as a pair of measures (H.R. 4924; H.Res. 724) that would alter Congress’s sexual harassment and anti-discrimination policies. All of those measures are expected to pass with bipartisan majorities. Senate lawmakers, meanwhile, will debate a House-passed defense spending bill (H.R. 695) as it waits on the lower chamber to pass along a CR. A procedural vote on that bill could come as early as noon today.