Gridlocked over a months-long spending bill, the widely unpopular 113th Congress is trying to see if it is capable of passing a stopgap measure for just one week.
Washington often kicks the can down the road on tough issues; but this time, down the road means not a year or even a few months, as it usually does, but just a handful of working days.
Having failed to agree on a bill to avoid a government shutdown, lawmakers are now pinning their hopes on a one-week continuing resolution (CR) to keep the lights from going out in Washington on Tuesday at midnight.
But even this measure — a mini-victory for the Democrats because it would fund ObamaCare for a week — is controversial because some Tea Party members vow they will not vote for any measure that allows federal funds to be spent on President Obama’s healthcare reform law.
Some lawmakers say a shutdown looks increasingly likely, because anticipated negotiations between Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTo Build Back Better, we need a tax system where everyone pays their fair share Democrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda MORE (D-Nev.) and Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerCheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge Lobbying world MORE (R-Ohio) have not yet happened.
On Wednesday, there was a striking lack of urgency on both sides of the Capitol. The Senate labored through a procedural motion while many House lawmakers were traveling back into town.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) warned on Wednesday that the likelihood of a government shutdown is the highest it’s been in years, and blamed the lack of bipartisan dialogue.
“This is the highest risk that I’ve seen because I see the least willingness to do what is absolutely essential in democracy, and that is to work together,” Hoyer told reporters.
Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerObama says US 'desperately needs' Biden legislation ahead of key votes Congress shows signs of movement on stalled Biden agenda Schumer gets shoutout, standing ovation from crowd at Tony Awards MORE (N.Y.), the third-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership, said Wednesday morning that there were not any talks among Obama, Reid and BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerCheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge Lobbying world MORE.
“I’m not aware of any,” he said.
Schumer earlier in the week had predicted that leadership negotiations would heat up. “There are obviously going to be negotiations going on while this is happening,” he said in an MSNBC interview.
The Washington Post reported that Reid had asked Obama to abandon efforts to set up a meeting with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders this week. The Senate majority leader has consistently declared that Democrats will not negotiate changes to the Affordable Care Act in exchange for funding government.
Senate Republicans emerging from a meeting Wednesday said they expect Boehner to pass a short-term stopgap, possibly lasting only a week, to avoid a shutdown on Tuesday.
“I think the House could still have time to send something different back, particularly if they sent along with it, a very short-term, like one-week clean [continuing resolution] so there would be no disruption as the longer-term bill was discussed,” Sen. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterBiden inaugural committee to refund former senator's donation due to foreign agent status Bottom line Lysol, Charmin keep new consumer brand group lobbyist busy during pandemic MORE (R-La.) told Fox News on Wednesday.
“Timing is getting tight,” said a senior GOP aide.
However, Michael Steel, the Speaker’s spokesman, declined to endorse that option.
“We’ll deal with whatever the Senate passes when they pass it. There’s no point in speculating before that,” he said.
“We are not going to vote on a clean CR,” said Rep. James Lankford (Okla.), chairman of the Republican Policy Committee. He added that the GOP could also buy time with a funding bill as short as a week “if we’re making progress” toward a longer deal.
“If we can come to some sort of agreement and do a short-term piece while we are working on language, fine. But if not, we’re stuck,” Lankford said.
House Republicans are not likely to come up with a new shutdown strategy until the Senate acts, but they are beginning to put together ideas while taking the temperature of members and finding out what could replace the original demand of defunding ObamaCare, he added.
“I have no idea where [the conference] is on that right now,” Lankford said.
“Look, we’re in a wait mode. The Speaker was very clear that we’re in a wait-and-see mode,” Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) said after emerging from a meeting with leaders. “Obviously we talked about some possibilities, but the Speaker was very close to the chest, and I think that’s wise.”
House GOP lawmakers will meet to discuss their strategy on Thursday morning.
Delaying a showdown over government funding linked to provisions that would defund ObamaCare would not sit well with conservative activists.
“No, it wouldn’t. We’re talking about a CR of a CR? We need to get serious around here,” said Brent Bozell, a prominent conservative activist who has helped build public pressure on Congress to use the stopgap as a vehicle to defund the healthcare law.
“Are we down to one-week budgets? This is where the rubber hits the road,” he said.
A spokesman for Reid said he would wait to see what the House can pass before taking a position on a weeklong stopgap.
“There is a new rumor about what the House is going to pass almost every day,” said Adam Jentleson.
The Senate took a step closer to passing the stopgap Wednesday when the chamber voted unanimously to advance the House-passed resolution. The vote happened soon after Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump-backed challenger to Cheney decried him as 'racist,' 'xenophobic' in 2016: report FBI investigating alleged assault on Fort Bliss soldier at Afghan refugee camp The Memo: Biden's immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio MORE (R-Texas) spent more than 21 hours on the Senate floor speaking against the president’s healthcare overhaul.
Reid blamed Cruz for taking Congress to the brink of a shutdown by using up valuable floor time.
“The government is set to shut down in a matter of hours,” he said. “It’s a shame we’re standing here having wasted perhaps two days, most of yesterday and a good part of today, when we could pass what we need to pass very quickly and send it back to the House.”
Reid plans to schedule a vote on an amendment stripping the ObamaCare language from the House-passed stopgap and setting an expiration date of Nov. 15. If 60 senators vote to end debate on the legislation, Reid could rewrite it with a simple majority vote.
Cruz and Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Gen. Milley faces his toughest day yet on Capitol Hill The Memo: Biden's immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio MORE (R-Fla.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGraham says he hopes that Trump runs again Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Officials want action on cyberattacks Senate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook MORE (R-Utah) have spearheaded an effort to extend debate, which would block Reid from changing it.
Their arguments have failed to persuade prominent Republicans, however.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFord to bolster electric vehicle production in multi-billion dollar push On The Money — GOP blocks spending bill to kick off chaotic week in congress Overnight Health Care — Presented by Alrtia — Booster shots get bipartisan rollout MORE (Ky.) and Minority Whip John CornynJohn CornynAbbott bows to Trump pressure on Texas election audit Senate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook Democrats up ante in risky debt ceiling fight MORE (R-Texas) have said they will vote to end debate on the measure because it will still include language to defund ObamaCare at the moment of consideration.
Cruz has argued this is a procedural gimmick and that Republicans should oppose any motion that empowers Reid to later revamp the legislation.
The bill faces another hurdle if Republicans raise a budgetary point-of-order objection to the bill because it exceeds allocations in the Budget Control Act.
“It’s likely a budget point of order will be placed against it,” said Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE (Ala.), the senior Republican on the Budget Committee.
Senate Republicans typically vote to sustain objections to bills that exceed the spending caps set by the 2011 law.
Reid needs 60 votes to waive such objections. While he could have more trouble corralling Republican votes to break the spending cap, he is likely to succeed, according to a senior GOP aide.
At the current pace, senators say the Senate will pass the amended stopgap and send it back to the House on Friday or Saturday.
That would leave Boehner with little time to amend it and send it back to the upper chamber to force a compromise. Democrats say if Boehner does not bring the Senate bill to a vote in the House, the government will shut down.
“It’s possible,” said Sen. Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinFCC needs to help services for the deaf catch up to videoconferencing tech Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act Ex-Rep. Abby Finkenauer running for Senate in Iowa MORE (D-Iowa) about the likelihood of a shutdown. “It’s really up to Mr. Boehner. If he takes what we pass Sunday and brings it to the floor and gives it his blessing, he’ll get Democrats and moderate Republicans to support it and that will be the end of it.”
— Mike Lillis, Pete Schroeder, Erik Wasson and Jonathan Easley contributed.