By Cristina Marcos - 04-05-17 06:00 AM EDT
Democrats plan to drive a hard bargain when the White House and GOP congressional leaders seek to pass a stopgap spending bill by the end of April to prevent a government shutdown.
As the party out of power, Democrats feel they face little pressure to provide any votes for a funding bill that does not meet their basic demands. Any shutdown, they believe, will be blamed on President Trump and Republicans.
As a result, Democrats say Republicans must bring a clean funding bill to the floor that includes no conservative policy riders if they want to win any of their votes.
Among the nonstarters are any attempts to block funds for ObamaCare implementation or environmental protection. Democrats will oppose language that halts Obama-era rules regarding overtime pay and retirement advice provided by financial advisers, as well as legislation that increases funding for the Pentagon while cutting domestic discretionary spending.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said Democrats "have a modicum of leverage" but warned they must be careful not to overplay their hand.
"It's important for us, privately, to understand, 'What are the limits?' We don't want to shut down the government," Connolly said Tuesday. "On the other hand, Republicans have to understand that we're willing to go to even that length if that's what it takes to protect some really critical programs that reflect values we're passionate about."
This will be the first time the Trump administration will be working with the GOP Congress to avoid a government shutdown.
For Democrats, it is the first time in eight years that they don't have to defend a president from their own party in a spending showdown.
As demonstrated by their failure to repeal and replace ObamaCare, it's still tough for House Republicans to pass critical legislation on their own.
That has always been tough to do with spending bills, given the determination of many GOP lawmakers to cut the size of the government.
House and Senate GOP leaders have already backed away from trying to defund Planned Parenthood or add a down payment for the U.S.-Mexico border wall in this month's spending bill.
When asked on Tuesday what wins will be delivered for conservatives in the spending bill, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) expressed relief that Republicans no longer have to negotiate with a Democratic president.
"The good news is we don't have to deal with the Obama administration on riders. We have the Trump administration," Ryan said at a Capitol press conference.
But he notably wouldn't specify any policy wins conservatives could get, saying, "I'm not going to get ahead of where the appropriators are."
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) predicted Tuesday that GOP leaders would need Democrats' help to keep the government funded after April 28.
"There is no doubt, when you look at this over the last number of years, that without the Democrats, they can't pass bills on their own," Hoyer said during a Capitol press briefing.
Hoyer's office pointedly blasted out a list of 18 votes since 2011 for which Republicans didn't have enough support to pass spending bills on their own despite holding the House majority.
Given Trump's low approval numbers, Democrats are already hoping they can deliver significant gains in the House for their party in next year's midterm elections.
In the spending fight, they want to be seen as willing to keep the government open. But that's as far as it goes.
"A spending bill that includes poison-pill riders is not a compromise bill. If Speaker Ryan is sincere about working across the aisle, he needs to leave out the riders," said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee.
The government will shut down on April 29 unless Congress approves a new funding measure.
That's a tight deadline, since lawmakers is set to leave Washington for a two-week recess at the end of this week. When members return, they'll have just a few days to avert a shutdown.
The House Appropriations Committee is expected to release a spending package the week of the deadline, according to a spokeswoman.
That means the legislation could be released by April 26 at the latest to meet the House GOP's self-imposed rule that all legislative text be made public at least three calendar days before a vote.
It's unclear whether the House or Senate will act first. The Senate could use a defense spending bill passed by the House last month as a vehicle to move the overall package, but aides said no final decision has been made.
The idea behind having the Senate vote first would be to deliver a package that can survive a filibuster by winning 60 votes. That would put more pressure on the House to simply accept the Senate package.
Democrats insist they don't actually want to see a shutdown.
When asked why Democrats should help with a spending bill when the GOP controls Congress and the White House, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) mused, "Well, that's a good question."
But she emphasized that a shutdown should be avoided.
"Democrats don't want a shutdown. That would be irresponsible. We're still a nation at war, if anybody's noticed. And we have an economy that seems to be picking up," said Kaptur, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. "And I think a government shutdown sends the absolute wrong message to the markets and harms economic growth."
Mike Lillis contributed.