By Deirdre Walsh and Manu Raju, CNN
Updated 8:14 PM ET, Tue November 3, 2015 | Video Source: CNN
Washington (CNN)House Speaker Paul Ryan warned the White House and Democrats Tuesday that Republicans won’t back down from a fight over government spending that left unresolved could result in a mid-December shutdown.
“This is the legislative branch, and the power of the purse rests within the legislative branch. And we fully expect that we are going to exercise that power,” Ryan said when pressed over whether he planned to attach so-called “policy riders” to a must-pass spending bill that Congress needs to approve before December 11.
The two-year budget deal that President Barack Obama signed on Monday sets the overall levels for government spending, but in order to avoid another government shutdown, the House and Senate need to approve a funding bill detailing levels for all federal agencies.
Earlier this year, Republicans and Democrats feuded over federal money for Planned Parenthood after a series of videos produced by an anti-abortion group suggested the group was selling fetal body parts for profit. Planned Parenthood denied any illegal activity, but the GOP-led House set up a select committee to continue investigating the matter and many GOP members insist that the next spending measure bar any additional taxpayer funding for the group. Other conservatives want to push other policy provisions to push back at the Obama administration’s regulatory policies.
In a joint statement, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, and Rep. Nita Lowey, D-New York, said after the meeting, “Democrats will stand strong and united against poison pill riders, and in support of responsible investments to move this nation forward.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that there is “always” a threat of a government shutdown, given what he called “dysfunction and disorganization” with the Republican ranks in Congress. But he said the likelihood of a shutdown this year was low given Ryan’s recent elevation to House Speaker.
“I continue to be confident that he doesn’t want to be responsible for a government shutdown six weeks into the job,” Earnest said. “That’s something I think would be clearly in his interest.”
Ryan enters the first week on the new job aimed at fulfilling promises he made in order to win support for the speaker’s job. He’ll have his challenges to do just that, with the December deadline looming and a contentious fight over a long-term highway bill that must be passed before Thanksgiving.
Part of Ryan’s promise: To allow a more bottom-up approach and decentralize power from the speaker’s office.
In one of the first decisions of the Steering Committee, Republicans will vote Wednesday to install either Reps. Kevin Brady of Texas or Pat Tiberi of Ohio as a successor to Ryan heading up the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. Ryan refused to say which man he’d like for the job, an effort to show his colleagues he is not dictating decisions from the speaker’s office.
Moreover, Ryan made clear that he would let the House work its will, signaling he would not stand in the way of a controversial amendment this week to revive the moribund Export-Import Bank, the nation’s chief export credit agency that is reviled by small-government conservatives. While Ryan opposes the bank, the business community strongly backs it — putting Ryan in the crosshairs in the first big fight of his speakership.
“It’s a test of leadership right off the bat,” said Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas.
Democrats are already warning of a confrontation over GOP efforts to condition continued federal spending on policy provisions.
“Republicans should be crystal clear: If they insist on inserting poison pill riders into the omnibus bill, they’ll be dragging us into another government shutdown,” New York Sen. Chuck Schumer told reporters, referring to a giant spending bill that lumps together the spending bills for all the government agencies into one big package. “We know some in the party want (the riders), but we’re going to do everything we can to avoid it.”
A standalone bill for defense spending
In a sign Senate GOP leaders were trying to get back to regular order, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved Tuesday to begin debate on a standalone spending bill for the Department of Defense. Republicans will need the support of at least six Democrats when that vote happens Thursday, but it’s unclear if enough will go along with that plan.
“I’m very disappointed because our view was that we wanted to do a total omnibus bill,” Mikulski said.
Mikulski suggested she was concerned her party would lose leverage in negotiations with Republicans over the remaining bills if they agreed to pass defense first.
“I need clarity,” Mikulski said, adding that Democratic decisions about whether to take up the bill are still a “work in progress.”
Mikulski’s comments echoed concerns raised by Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat, who was skeptical of GOP motives in moving individual bills at this point.
Republicans, however, argued it makes sense to move the bill separately so members could offer amendments and finely craft it.
“If we can move a bill by itself, we ought to do it,” said Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, a senior appropriator. “The ones we don’t have time to move maybe lump them together. That’s what we’ve historically done.”
CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.