BALTIMORE -- House and Senate Republicans came here for their annual retreat to get on the same page, catch a few panel discussions and celebrate their collective commitment to passing all 12 appropriations bills.
Just don't ask them how.
"Don't ask questions like, 'Isn't Santa Claus too fat to fit through that flue?'" one GOP member told The Huffington Post on background, in order to speak more freely about his colleagues burying their heads in the sand. "Just acknowledge that there's a chimney and something could pass through it and presents do show up."
The member, who reported that he had "high hopes and low expectations" about Republican achievements in this election year, told HuffPost that just about everyone in the room for the GOP retreat was excited about passing spending bills through regular order -- an elusive legislative process that gives members greater authority to affect spending and policy decisions, but opens bills up to contentious votes.
Indeed, Republican leader after Republican leader came before the press on Thursday to tout his or her allegiance to funding the government through appropriations bills instead of through a continuing resolution or omnibus bill.
While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) acknowledged that Republicans couldn't implement every idea they have with President Barack Obama in the White House, he said Republicans could take steps to advance their priorities.
"One obvious step I would mention -- it is not going to titillate the public -- but one obvious step would be, for the first time since 1994, do all the appropriations bills," McConnell said. "And the Democrats in the Senate, who blocked that possibility this year, are at least saying the right things, and we're going to give them an opportunity to step up and help us do that."
Senate Democrats blocked Republicans from moving on to appropriations bills last year because they disagreed with the overall spending level Republicans wanted to use. Now, with a budget agreement already in place that set this year's levels, Republicans think they've removed the highest hurdle to passing appropriations measures.
In the words of Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.): "Why would the Democrats filibuster something they agreed to?"
Of course, there are a number of issues that could crop up during the appropriations process. House Republicans discontinued their appropriations process last July, when Democrats made it clear they would force a politically damaging vote on the Confederate flag.
But that might have just been an excuse. In the words of the member who spoke to HuffPost on background, the House GOP explanation is a "fairy tale."
"Anybody that thinks we stopped doing appropriations bills because of a Confederate flag vote is living in a fantasy world," he said.
The truth of the matter may be that Republicans were about finished with the spending bills they wanted to get through the House chamber. For instance, leaders usually avoid the measure that funds the Department of Health and Human Services because bringing it to the floor could expose members to tough votes on abortion riders.
In an election year with a condensed schedule so that members have plenty of time for campaigning, avoiding difficult votes is a common strategy.
This makes the inherent tension between the House and Senate all the more visible. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has been emphatic with his Republican colleagues that he will appease members who desire votes on controversial ideas. McConnell wants to protect a vulnerable Senate majority, with 24 Republican seats -- versus only 10 Democratic seats -- going up for re-election in November.
There are signs, however, that McConnell realizes he can't completely duck tough votes.
“We weren’t sent here to do nothing," McConnell said Thursday, "and we’re going to be looking for opportunities to make some progress for the American people this year."
The question is, how committed is McConnell to doing something? If Democrats stand in the way of getting appropriations bills done, that might be no skin off his back.
It's just that most members don't see that calculus at this point.
For now, they're satisfied with McConnell's tone, though some do recognize his hedging.
"What he said was, 'I'm committed to the 12 appropriations bills process -- which is different than saying he's going to get it done, without a doubt -- but it's very different than, 'I'm going to try my darndest,'" Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said Thursday.
Still, most members are happy enough with that answer. They recognize that, without 60 votes in the Senate, Republicans are somewhat at the will of Democrats and the filibuster. And even if some Republicans are pushing for changes to the filibuster, many others recognize the utility of the legislative tool used to protect minority rights in the Senate.
Even the member who spoke to HuffPost anonymously had some positive things to say, acknowledging that this retreat had a much different tone than the one that would have taken place if former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) still had the gavel. "Or even if John Boehner had retired this fall," the member said. "This is the conference that is happening this way because John Boehner was essentially deposed."
While conservatives were generally happy to take what they could get from House and Senate leaders, the member warned that the mood of groups like the House Freedom Caucus was fickle, and conservatives could turn on Ryan quickly if they felt misled on how vigorously leadership tried to pass appropriations bills.
"The question for the people that are happy right now, who are almost certainly going to be disappointed later, is 'What are you going to do about it when it doesn't happen?'" the member said.
And what's the answer?
"I mean, it's pretty ..." the member said before trailing off, seemingly to avoid expressing readiness for a potential coup. "I don't even want to go there right now, but you can anticipate what I'm going to do if I'm lied to."
Laura Barron-Lopez contributed reporting.
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