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.

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Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn On The Money: Trump, China announce 'Phase One' trade deal | Supreme Court takes up fight over Trump financial records | House panel schedules hearing, vote on new NAFTA deal On The Money: Lawmakers strike spending deal | US, China reach limited trade deal ahead of tariff deadline | Lighthizer fails to quell GOP angst over new NAFTA 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 PelosiTrump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Sherrod Brown backs new North American trade deal: 'This will be the first trade agreement I've ever voted for' Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Turf war derails push on surprise medical bills | Bill would tax e-cigarettes to pay for anti-vaping campaign | .5M ad blitz backs vulnerable Dems on drug prices 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 PaulPentagon to take bigger role in vetting foreign students after Pensacola shooting Overnight Defense: House passes compromise defense bill | Turkey sanctions advance in Senate over Trump objections | Top general says military won't be 'raping, burning and pillaging' after Trump pardons Rand Paul: 'We need to re-examine' US-Saudi relationship after Florida shooting 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 TrumpDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Trump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Seven years after Sandy Hook, the politics of guns has changed 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 ShelbyLawmakers strike spending deal to avert shutdown McConnell accuses Democrats of stonewalling funding talks with wall demands  On The Money: Pelosi, Trump tout deal on new NAFTA | McConnell says no trade vote until impeachment trial wraps up | Lawmakers push spending deadline to Thursday 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 SchumerTurf war derails bipartisan push on surprise medical bills Senate confirms Trump's nominee to lead FDA CEO group pushes Trump, Congress on paid family, medical leave 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 AlexanderTrump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Turf war derails push on surprise medical bills | Bill would tax e-cigarettes to pay for anti-vaping campaign | .5M ad blitz backs vulnerable Dems on drug prices Turf war derails bipartisan push on surprise medical bills 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.