Lawmakers race to prevent shutdown amid last-minute snags

Lawmakers race to prevent shutdown amid last-minute snags
© Greg Nash

Congress is struggling to finalize a mammoth funding bill as they barrel toward a Friday deadline to prevent another government shutdown.

Lawmakers say that, while they hope to unveil an omnibus on Tuesday, they are still wrestling with a slate of controversial hurdles — including border funding and immigration enforcement measures, as well as key ObamaCare payments that are bogged down in an abortion fight.

The negotiations slog, according to members of leadership, could force Congress to pass a stopgap measure in order to give lawmakers time to finalize the bill and navigate around the Senate’s procedural hurdles.


Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape MORE (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said on Tuesday that with the timeline for votes slipping in the House, lawmakers could be forced to approve a days-long continuing resolution (CR) before Friday night's deadline.

"It just means we're going to be here into the weekend, perhaps, and there may have to be some measures taken to keep the lights on, but we'll get it done," he told reporters on Tuesday.

Asked if one of those measures would be a stopgap bill, he added: "That would be the one thing we could do, yeah."

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWhy President Trump needs to speak out on Hong Kong Anti-Trump vets join Steyer group in pressing Democrats to impeach Trump Pelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid MORE (D-Calif.) also indicated to reporters that a CR was under discussion in order to give the Senate time to pass the bill.

“More prominently discussed is if the Senate has all of these procedural things it has to do it might not be finished in time, and maybe [we’ll need] a short-term [bill] just to see it through — should we come to agreement on the other things," she said.

The House is now expected to vote on Thursday. That means the earliest the Senate could hold an initial vote, absent a deal from every senator agreeing to speed up the votes, is early Saturday morning — an hour after the funding deadline.

Last month, Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGraham promises ObamaCare repeal if Trump, Republicans win in 2020 Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing Rand Paul to 'limit' August activities due to health MORE (R-Ky.) antagonized his colleagues by using the Senate's rulebook to spark an hours-long shutdown under similar circumstances.

Asked on Tuesday if he would let leadership speed up the votes on the omnibus, Paul told The Hill "we haven't decided yet."

The talk of needing another short-term funding bill comes as lawmakers struggle to iron out the final hurdles blocking the omnibus, which would fund the government through the end of September.

Both Cornyn and Pelosi pointed at Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding as an issue, including President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump pushes back on recent polling data, says internal numbers are 'strongest we've had so far' Illinois state lawmaker apologizes for photos depicting mock assassination of Trump Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump MORE’s proposed border wall and immigration enforcement.

"I know ... that's one of the last items to be closed out,” Cornyn said. “We're waiting and watching. We'll hopefully get it done this afternoon or this evening."

Pelosi added there were discussions about combining short-term funding for DHS with full funding for the rest of the government.

“The CR mostly that’s been talked about is if we can’t do Homeland Security, we do that as the CR and the rest of the bill [separately],” she said.

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyIn-space refueling vs heavy lift? NASA and SpaceX choose both Budget deal sparks scramble to prevent shutdown Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects MORE (R-Ala.), set to be the next chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said lawmakers are “close” but “there are a few things that are not complete yet."

Asked if the border wall and related immigration discussions were one of those things, he laughed before adding: "I can't get into that."

The haggling over immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border wall comes after the Trump administration floated, and then walked back, a proposal late last week of including a deal on the border and an extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

But those negotiations appear to have stalled. A source familiar with the talks said both the White House and congressional Democrats shot down competing proposals over the weekend.

Beyond immigration, Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerLewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid Colorado candidates vying to take on Gardner warn Hickenlooper they won't back down MORE (D-N.Y.) and the White House have locked horns over including funding for the Gateway project, an infrastructure proposal that’s a priority for the New York and New Jersey delegations.

And senators said on Tuesday that they are still trying to get funding for ObamaCare’s cost-sharing reduction payments in the omnibus.

“It’s my hope that it will be included in the omnibus bill,” Senate Health Committee Chairman Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report - How will Trump be received in Dayton and El Paso? McConnell faces pressure to bring Senate back for gun legislation Criminal justice reform should extend to student financial aid MORE (R-Tenn.) told reporters.

Republicans want to apply a rule known as the Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal money from being used to fund abortion, to the new funds. But Democrats counter that it would represent an expansion of the Hyde Amendment to a new area of funding.

Asked if leadership had promised to include the payments in the mammoth funding bill, Alexander signaled it was still under discussion.

“No, I think the leadership is still deciding what will be in the omnibus,” he said.

Cornyn, asked about the ObamaCare cost-sharing reduction payments, told reporters: “Stay tuned.”

— Mike Lillis contributed.