After bipartisan budget deal, Congress again talking shutdown

After bipartisan budget deal, Congress again talking shutdown
© Greg Nash

Congress passed a deal last week to avoid a federal default and keep the government operating, but the bipartisanship didn’t last very long.

With the ink on the latest agreement barely dry, there’s already talk of another shutdown.

Democrats and Republicans are battling over dozens of controversial policy riders that threaten to derail the year-end deal and thrust lawmakers into a standoff.

The fight could take down the defense appropriations bill, which is scheduled for a vote in the Senate Thursday.

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Democrats say they will block it unless they get a guarantee from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFlake threatens to limit Trump court nominees: report Senate moving ahead with border bill, despite Trump On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Senators hammers Ross on Trump tariffs | EU levies tariffs on US goods | Senate rejects Trump plan to claw back spending MORE (R-Ky.) to send all of the other appropriations measures to President Obama’s desk.

So far, there’s no indication the GOP leader will make such a promise.

Republicans will likely agree in the end, however, to move all the spending bills together, because most voters would likely blame their party for a shutdown.  

In the meantime, they are happy to stick to a piecemeal approach and collect political ammunition against Democrats who block military funding.

“I think they’re making a serious mistake,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump's America fights back Mellman: Trump can fix it GOP strategist Steve Schmidt denounces party, will vote for Democrats MORE (R-Ariz.). “If you’re going to play games with the nation’s defense and the men and women who serve, I think it’s a bit dangerous.”

Each side is accusing the other of playing games only days after big votes in both chambers appeared to settle things.

The imbroglio must be resolved by Dec. 11, when a government funding stopgap expires.

Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats' education agenda would jeopardize state-level success Overnight Health Care — Presented by the Association of American Medical Colleges — Trump officials move to expand non-ObamaCare health plans | 'Zero tolerance' policy stirs fears in health community | New ObamaCare repeal plan Selling government assets would be a responsible move in infrastructure deal MORE (N.Y.), the third-ranking member of the Democratic leadership, is warning the GOP to back off.

“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,” he said.

Democrats say Republicans are trying to wriggle out of the deal by giving priority to defense spending. A core tenet of the accord was that defense and non-defense programs would be increased by equal amounts, they point out.

“It appears they still can’t get it out of their system,” Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidAmendments fuel resentments within Senate GOP Donald Trump is delivering on his promises and voters are noticing Danny Tarkanian wins Nevada GOP congressional primary MORE (Nev.) said, accusing Republicans of wanting to shutter the government.

Republicans claim that Democrats are the ones backsliding by threatening to block spending bills after reaching an agreement on the top-line numbers.

“They’re delusional. They think there’s some trick. There’s no trick. The spending caps have basically been agreed to,” said Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynSenate moving ahead with border bill, despite Trump GOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border Senate GOP tries to defuse Trump border crisis MORE (R-Texas).

Democrats say that moving the defense bill separately raises the risk that Republicans will attempt to attach poison pills to other spending measures and be content to simply pass stopgaps for other federal agencies if Democrats block those riders.

“I’m voting against the motion to proceed [to the defense bill] unless we have a memorialized way of saying that this will not be a repeat, which is when defense appropriations was passed and everything else was a [continuing resolution],” said Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee Robert Mueller's forgotten surveillance crime spree Clinton: White House slow-walking Russia sanctions MORE (Md.), the senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“Right now we do not trust this process,” she added.

Democrats argue that McConnell has backed them into a corner by forcing them to consider the defense bill on its own.

Because the measure is the GOP’s top spending priority, they fear they would lose a bargaining chip if it’s signed into law — leaving them with less leverage to keep riders off other spending bills.

Republicans say Democrats have moved the goalposts.

“They got a deal on the budget numbers, which is what they wanted. Why would they filibuster the defense bill?” said a senior GOP aide.

But Democrats say the deal was to move an omnibus package that included funding for all federal departments.

“We agreed to a budget framework to keep the government open through an omnibus package. The time for regular order, for taking up, considering and passing each appropriations bill separately, was months ago,” said Sen. Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenate moderates hunt for compromise on family separation bill All the times Horowitz contradicted Wray — but nobody seemed to notice Hillicon Valley: Trump hits China with massive tech tariffs | Facebook meets with GOP leaders over bias allegations | Judge sends Manafort to jail ahead of trial | AT&T completes Time Warner purchase MORE (Del.), another Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.

Republicans are pushing nine riders chipping away at ObamaCare, including language prohibiting the Department of Health and Human Services from funding state insurance exchanges. 

They are also pushing add-on provisions to repeal parts of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, curb the power of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and block the Federal Communications Commission from issuing net neutrality rules pending the outcome of legal challenges.

Democrats have demanded that Republicans keep these provisions off the spending bills, but GOP leaders have refused.

“This is the legislative branch, and the power of the purse rests within the legislative branch, and we fully expect that we’re going to exercise that power,” Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTrump backs down in rare reversal Trump, GOP launch full-court press on compromise immigration measure Meadows gets heated with Ryan on House floor MORE (R-Wis.) told reporters earlier this week.

Senate leaders say another round of negotiations will be needed to settle the dispute over riders.

“It’s time for Sen. McConnell as well as Speaker Ryan to really show us their riders,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats protest Trump's immigration policy from Senate floor Live coverage: FBI chief, Justice IG testify on critical report Hugh Hewitt to Trump: 'It is 100 percent wrong to separate border-crossing families' MORE (Ill.). “Democrats should do the same.

“Let’s have an honest negotiation of how we’re going to end this appropriations process,” he added.

Senate leadership sources are more optimistic about the resolution of a multiyear transportation reauthorization bill, which is expected to include a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.

A senior Senate GOP aide predicted the House would pass this week a highway bill similar to what the Senate passed in July.

Senate aides projected the Senate and House versions would be merged in a conference negotiation and scheduled for floor votes before Thanksgiving. The Export-Import Bank reauthorization is likely to be included, which would resolve another of this year’s outstanding fights.