Conservatives fear spending legislation that needs to pass within nine days will be stuffed with wasteful spending and policies they oppose, and that Republicans will be too distracted by impeachment to organize opposition.
Legislation must pass by Dec. 20 to avoid a government shutdown. Most of the focus during that window will be on House votes to impeach President Trump and to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal.
“There are all these shiny impeachment issues to talk about. Things are falling through the cracks,” said a person close to House Republican leadership. “If you have some pet issue that would normally be controversial among the [conservative] base, now is the time to push it through,” said a second Republican operative.
Lawmakers aren’t able to organize opposition, in part because they don’t know yet what will be in the legislation. And they may not learn some of the specifics until after a hastily unveiled bill becomes law.
“I don’t have any specifics … just rumors that these things may be littered across this massive legislation,” said Rep. Dan Bishop, a North Carolina Republican who opposes earmark spending. “You first have to identify them amid an unwieldy and large piece of legislation.”
Bishop said impeachment is an “enormous consumer” of lawmakers’ attention and that he’s concerned the bill will be “loaded up like a Christmas tree.”
Bishop said he’s also worried about policy provisions either being incorporated or extended as a bundle by the legislation when he believes they deserve individual consideration.
It’s unclear what form new spending legislation will take. It may be formulated as a continuing resolution that maintains spending levels while adding various new provisions.
A spending framework passed by Congress in August allows plenty of room for projects that might ordinarily attract opposition from conservatives. The deal sets a course to expand spending by $320 billion over two years.
Specific policy items cited by conservative activists as concerns include a provision for paid family leave for federal workers and legislation that bans surprise medical billing in part by limiting what hospitals and doctors can charge, which conservatives deride as “price fixing.”
And conservatives say some Trump priorities clearly won’t be funded, including his border wall, an issue that triggered a government shutdown in December 2018. Several Republican insiders said they doubt Trump will force a shutdown this time.
“Is there going to be stuff [Trump] dislikes? I’m sure there is. And there won’t be stuff he wants,” said Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. But Alexander said the impeachment might not fundamentally alter appropriations procedures, which often are rushed.
“Impeachment is crazy and has hijacked the city … but there are lots of other people who have jobs that they have to do,” she said.
Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said the tight time frame leaves significant uncertainty about how exactly a bill will look. But large packages “tend to be full of provisions that are unknown until days later,” he said.
“Members don’t really know what is in them when they vote,” he said.