Congress barrels toward another shutdown crisis

Lawmakers are scrambling to avoid a government shutdown as they barrel toward another funding deadline without a clear path forward.

GOP leadership is remaining tightlipped about their plan, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders pitch children's health funding in plan to avert shutdown Lawmakers see shutdown’s odds rising Fix what we’ve got and make Medicare right this year MORE (R-Wis.) declining to outline their next steps before a Jan. 19 deadline.

They are expected to offer a short-term stopgap measure given the fast-approaching deadline and a failure to lockdown a deal on raising spending ceilings for defense and nondefense.

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“I think if we are able to reach an agreement, it will still take a little bit of time to prepare the omnibus,” McConnell told reporters this week during a leadership press conference, in a sign that a stopgap could be coming.

“But I'm not ready to make an announcement yet about the way forward,” he said.

If the GOP does move to a short-term measure, Democrats are tightlipped about whether they’ll go along with the plan.

Republicans are accusing Democrats of holding the government “hostage” over demands to protect immigrants known as “Dreamers” who fear the end of an Obama-era program could risk their deportation beginning in March.

Democrats believe they have leverage to quickly get a deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program because Republicans need their help to keep the government open.

But GOP leadership appears skeptical that Democrats would ultimately force a shutdown over the issue before a midterm election in which 10 senators are up for reelection in states won by President TrumpDonald John TrumpDems flip Wisconsin state Senate seat Sessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants GOP rep: 'Sheet metal and garbage' everywhere in Haiti MORE.

“It’s amazing that we’re five days from the [continuing resolution] expiring and I can’t tell you what would be in a [continuing resolution], or whether or not we’re going to have caps," Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerMcCarthy: ‘No deadline on DACA’ Lawmakers see shutdown’s odds rising Hoyer suggests Dems won't support spending bill without DACA fix MORE (D-Md.) told reporters Wednesday.

He added that he “can’t tell you what Democrats will or will not do because I do not know the substance.”

Lawmakers face an abbreviated work schedule because of next week’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, but have a laundry list of issues confronting them. A controversial surveillance program, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the National Flood Insurance Program are all scheduled to soon expire.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats will need to explain if they shut government down over illegal immigration White House: Trump remarks didn't derail shutdown talks Schumer defends Durbin after GOP senator questions account of Trump meeting MORE (D-N.Y.) reiterated Wednesday that he wants an agreement by the next week’s deadline that folds in immigration, health care and disaster money.

But he’s refused to say if he will whip Senate Democrats against a stopgap if an immigration deal is not reached.

House Democrats refused to put up the votes for the Dec. 22 stopgap, but Ryan was able to wrangle together enough of his caucus to pass it without their help. Seventeen Senate Democrats also supported the last government funding bill.

Progressive lawmakers and outside group are putting new pressure on the party to flex its muscle and block another spending bill that falls short of their demands.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinMcCarthy: ‘No deadline on DACA’ Ex-Sheriff David Clarke: Trump only one who 'cares about black American citizens' DHS chief takes heat over Trump furor MORE (D-Ill.) declined to speculate about if more of his caucus would oppose the next funding deal without a fleshed out DACA agreement after Trump and lawmakers agreed to the parameters of a deal at the White House.

Republicans are also weighing adding disaster relief funding and a five-year extension of CHIP into the bill, which could make it harder for Democrats to vote against a stopgap that includes some of their priorities.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchKoch groups: Don't renew expired tax breaks in government funding bill Hatch tweets link to 'invisible' glasses after getting spotted removing pair that wasn't there DHS giving ‘active defense’ cyber tools to private sector, secretary says MORE (R-Utah) said he is urging GOP leadership to attach a long-term CHIP reauthorization to the continuing resolution.

“I think we’ll get CHIP done,” he said, while warning that lawmakers are “playing a lot of games.”

House GOP leadership will need to navigate pushback from defense and fiscal hawks, who have bristled over keeping the government running on short-term measures. The next short-term spending bill would be the fourth passed by Congress in a row.

Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsFreedom Caucus chair: GOP leaders don't have votes to avoid shutdown GOP leaders pitch children's health funding in plan to avert shutdown House to consider another short-term spending bill MORE (R-N.C.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, declined to say on Wednesday how his members would vote but noted that many are worried.

“We’re sitting on the edge of … our fourth [continuing resolution] and I think at this point it is troubling that we have not executed a more comprehensive plan,” he said.

Meadows, who predicted the next stopgap could stretch into March, hopes leadership will outline their plan for government funding during a conference meeting scheduled for Thursday but “the process of having four people ... agree what’s best for America has not produced good results.”

House GOP leaders struggled for days leading up to the Dec. 22 deadline to find a path that could secure 218 votes. They planned to pass a full year of defense spending with a short-term fix for the rest of the government, but scrapped that plan amid pushback.

Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynMcCarthy: ‘No deadline on DACA’ NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Hoyer suggests Dems won't support spending bill without DACA fix MORE (R-Texas) initially indicated this week that disaster funding would be included in next week’s stopgap but hedged on Wednesday, noting that it was up to the House, which will need to move first on the spending bill.

The House passed an $81 billion bill last month to help communities impacted by a recent spate of hurricanes and wildfires. House GOP leadership had to separate that legislation from the spending bill because of pushback from fiscal hawks, and senators are looking at making changes to the bill.

Asked if he was concerned that the House GOP leadership would have a similar “drama” with next week’s bill, Cornyn quipped: “Is there any other way?"

Mike Lillis contributed to this story.