Senators sound alarm over looming budget, shutdown battles

Alarm bells are starting to go off on Capitol Hill over a looming fight to fund the government and prevent a shutdown later this year.

Though Congress has until the end of September to pass legislation preventing another funding lapse, lawmakers are sending up warning signs to their colleagues and the White House that they are heading toward a fall train wreck, with deadlines for raising the debt ceiling and preventing across-the-board budget cuts and the second shutdown of the year all in the same month.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyIs this any way for NASA to build a lunar lander? In-space refueling vs heavy lift? NASA and SpaceX choose both Budget deal sparks scramble to prevent shutdown MORE (R-Ala.) on Wednesday said he highlighted the deadlines, and the consequences for failing to get a budget deal, during a GOP lunch this week with Vice President Pence and in a phone call with acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyTrump's latest plan to undermine Social Security Trump says he'll decide on foreign aid cuts within a week Dick Cheney to attend fundraiser supporting Trump reelection: report MORE.

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“That’s what I told our caucus — that this will be draconian,” he said, referring to the looming cuts. “They probably haven’t thought about it much because they think we’ll take care of it.”

Asked if he thought the White House understood how steep the spending cuts would be, Shelby demurred, then said he was going to meet with President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE.

The growing concern about the chances of getting agreements to raise the budget caps and fund the government comes as Congress and the administration have struggled for months to strike a smaller deal on a stalled package of disaster recovery aid.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSchumer blasts 'red flag' gun legislation as 'ineffective cop out' Lawmakers jump-start talks on privacy bill Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said the struggle to reach a deal on disaster aid was “not a good bellwether” for the rest of the fiscal year.

“It’s not a good sign,” he said.

Senators appeared optimistic late last week that they would be able to reach a deal on the recovery legislation after Shelby and Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyAppropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions Graham moves controversial asylum bill through panel; Democrats charge he's broken the rules MORE (D-Vt.) swapped offers.

But they ran into a “hiccup” over the weekend, and senators signaled this week that the administration’s $4.5 billion request for emergency funding for the border was complicating the talks. With legislation slowing to a crawl in the Senate, the White House has a limited number of must-pass bills it could try to attach the border funding to.

“Well, we have to see what exactly he wants,” Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerJewish Democratic congresswoman and veteran blasts Trump's 'disloyalty' comments Schumer says Trump encouraging anti-Semites Saagar Enjeti: Biden's latest blunder; Krystal Ball: Did Schumer blow our chance to beat McConnell? MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters during a weekly press conference, referring to Trump. “But you know, again, he complicated up the disaster bill once. Maybe now he’s doing it twice. That’s what it seems to be.”

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The disaster aid bill stalemated more than a month ago after Trump criticized Puerto Rico’s handling of recovery money during a closed-door Republican lunch. He tweeted this week that “Puerto Rico should be very happy and the Dems should stop blocking much needed Disaster Relief!”

Shelby acknowledged Wednesday, more than a month into the standoff, that he doesn’t know what the White House wants in the legislation in order for Trump to sign it. But he urged the administration to take the win on being able to provide relief for a spate of recent disasters in the Midwest and Southeast.

Asked if he thought Mulvaney was playing a “constructive” role in the disaster relief negotiations, Shelby responded by saying: “Constructive role? He’s certainly playing a role.”

The disaster bill pales in comparison to the months-long process for preventing an October shutdown — budget deals in Congress followed by passing 12 appropriations bills.

The limbo status in the Senate comes as House Democrats are pushing ahead with their own spending plan, setting up a clash with GOP senators and the White House as the fall deadlines draw closer. House Democrats are aiming to pass all 12 of their appropriations bills next month, potentially giving them an opening for leverage in the upcoming funding negotiations.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' Pelosi asks Democrats for 'leverage' on impeachment Democrats press FBI, DHS on response to white supremacist violence MORE (R-Ky.) announced last month that he, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi asks Democrats for 'leverage' on impeachment Is there internet life after thirty? Pelosi says Dems 'have to be ready to throw a punch — for the children' in 2020 MORE (D-Calif.) and Trump had agreed to engage in staff-level talks to try to find a two-year budget caps deal on defense and nondefense spending.

Thune said Wednesday that he expects several Senate Republicans will want to get a two-year budget deal but hadn’t gotten a clear signal from the White House if the administration would accept such an agreement.

“The White House is going to have to be a part of that conversation. I think a lot of our members would love to see a caps deal, if we could work something out with the House, get a two-year deal. But at the moment I don’t know if that’s something the White House would support,” he said.

A Democratic leadership aide added that talks are underway but declined to give an update on the status of negotiations. The source dismissed any link between the roadblocks on disaster aid and potential funding headaches for Congress in the coming months, saying one has nothing to do with the other.

When asked if the current stalemate raises concerns about trying to fund the government, Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions To combat domestic terrorism, Congress must equip law enforcement to fight rise in white supremacist attacks MORE (D-Ill.) responded, “poor Richard Shelby.”

“Shelby hasn’t been given clear direction on where we’re going. He wants to go to work and I want to join him. Without a number, we’re at a loss,” he said, referring to the need for topline defense and nondefense figures.

Republicans prided themselves on their appropriations work last year, when they passed all 12 bills in the committee by the end of June. But even that high-water mark ended in multiple short-term spending bills and a 35-day partial government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history.

Shelby said he warned Mulvaney and his colleagues that if they can’t resolve disaster aid it would be a “bleak winter” as they try to fund the government.

“I told the caucus and I told Mulvaney, too …  the disaster bill is very important,” Shelby said. “But it pales in comparison to what the next thing is — the big regular appropriations. If we can’t work this out, we’re going to have a bleak winter.”

He added to reporters, “You guys will be here a long time. So, don’t plan any vacations.”