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 McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul Ryan (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.
“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 Trump.
“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 Hoyer (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 Schumer (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 Durbin (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 Hatch (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 Meadows (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 Cornyn (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.