The decision was made after Vice President-elect Mike Pence met with House Republicans on Thursday morning and conveyed the Trump transition team’s preference. It’s also a victory for conservatives who have fought against passing any major legislation in a lame-duck session, arguing that lawmaking are less accountable to voters when they act after the election but before the new Congress is seated. They were angry last year when Congress passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill just before Christmas with little time for debate.
For Ryan, the move additionally serves as political protection against a revolt that could threaten his reelection as speaker. While Republicans unanimously nominated him as their leader on Tuesday, a number of conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus warned that if Ryan either tried to pass an omnibus spending bill or approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the lame-duck session, they would vote against him during the formal House vote for speaker in early January. Both of those measures are now dead for the year.
The drawback for Trump is that he will now have to spend time and political capital on a debate over federal spending during his first months in office, at a time when he will be trying to get other items on his agenda through Congress. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi warned Republicans they might come to regret that decision. “I think they’re making a big mistake for themselves,” she said at her own press conference. “They’re going to have a kettle of fish in March that they can’t even imagine.”
Yet Republicans might have another reason for kicking the spending fight in 2017: It could allow them to roll back more regulations enacted by the Obama administration. Under the Congressional Review Act, the House and Senate can nullify major regulations with a simple majority vote if they act within 60 legislative days of the rule’s enactment. Simply passing a stopgap spending bill now would likely lead the GOP to adjourn Congress a few weeks earlier than planned. And that would stop the legislative clock and allow the House and Senate in January to repeal regulations that went into effect earlier in 2016. (Because Congress was out of session so often this year, the window of “60 legislative days” already stretches back to May.) According to an analysis by the conservative American Action Forum, Republicans would already be able to nullify 48 major regulations in January if Congress does not adjourn early, including rules expanding overtime pay, restricting personal drone use, curtailing drilling in the Arctic Shelf, and mandating significant changes to regulations on food labeling.
The GOP’s decision on Thursday, in other words, could have ramifications far beyond congressional spending.