Congress and President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE struck a two-year budget deal, but now comes the hard part: actually funding the government.
With both the House and Senate out of town for the August recess, lawmakers will face a chaotic September. They’ll have three weeks to prevent a second shutdown in a year that is set to start Oct. 1 without congressional action.
“I think you better hold on to your hat in September because it’s going to be a fast track,” said Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinBriahna Joy Gray: Push toward major social spending amid pandemic was 'short-lived' Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels Biden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week MORE (D-W.Va.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Things are going to move.”
Congress has to pass either 12 government funding bills or a continuing resolution (CR) that would give negotiators more time while extending funding at 2019 levels.
The House has passed 10 out of the 12 bills already. But those bills will not pass the Senate in their current form because they are loaded up with “poison pill” riders — provisions Republicans oppose.
The Senate, meanwhile, is at square one after leaving its appropriations process in limbo while the White House and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiRepublicans caught in California's recall trap Raise the debt limit while starting to fix the budget 'Justice for J6' organizer calls on demonstrators to respect law enforcement MORE (D-Calif.) hashed out the two-year budget deal.
The 12 appropriations bills, in their totality, equal hundreds if not thousands of pages for lawmakers, the White House and their staffs to haggle over. Each bill presents a whack-a-mole of potential political and policy roadblocks that could pop up and stall talks.
The complexity all but guarantees a CR will be needed to fund at least part of the government past Oct. 1. The stopgap measure typically goes into early or mid-December, setting up another funding cliff just before the holidays.
“I don’t think you’re going to see many bills resolved by Oct. 1,” said Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Senate backers of new voting rights bill push for swift passage The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Polls open in California as Newsom fights for job MORE (D-Mont.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Maybe defense, maybe VA-MilCon. I wouldn’t expect any more than that.”
Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP hopes spending traps derail Biden agenda A tale of two chambers: Trump's power holds in House, wanes in Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Senate passes infrastructure bill, budget resolution; Cuomo resigns MORE (R-Mo.), a member of Republican leadership and the committee, said, “I don’t know if we can get a bill on the president's desk by Sept. 30 or not, but I would certainly like to see one of the bills get there.”
The Senate Appropriations Committee is supposed to have its first markups on Sept. 12, Congress’s first week back from the recess.
That would set it up to attempt a breakneck pace of trying to get a bill to the floor, conferenced with the House and signed by Trump in just over two weeks.
To help knock out a majority of the funding, Senate Republicans are eyeing merging three bills — defense; labor, health and human services; and energy and water development — on the Senate floor in September.
The three bills make up a majority of total spending, helping Congress quarantine at least part of the government from a shutdown threat if senators can stick with their own best-case scenario.
“It we did that that would be over 70 percent of the expenditure,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyCrypto debate set to return in force Press: Why is Mo Brooks still in the House? Eshoo urges Pelosi to amend infrastructure bill's 'problematic' crypto regulation language MORE (R-Ala.). “That would be progress big time.”
But the bills aren’t without their challenges. Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinManchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants Democrats hope Biden can flip Manchin and Sinema US gymnasts offer scathing assessment of FBI MORE (Ill.), the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee, said talks he and his staff have had with Shelby already spotted potential areas of conflict.
“My staff has come to me and said we think the following five things are of interest to us or maybe controversial,” he said.
One of the big hurdles is likely to be language around Trump’s ability to use money from the Pentagon to help build the U.S.-Mexico border wall. The Supreme Court recently ruled that the Trump administration can start using the $2.5 billion in military funds to begin construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border while litigation plays out.
The wall has been a perennial point of contention between Democrats and the White House and sparked a 35-day partial shutdown.
In an effort to isolate the biggest problem area for the talks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) bill, lawmakers are likely to save it for the end.
Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenators slow Biden with holds at Pentagon, State Tell our troops: 'Your sacrifice wasn't in vain' Sunday shows preview: Bombing in Kabul delivers blow to evacuation effort; US orders strikes on ISIS-K MORE (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said delaying taking up DHS was an “invitation for brinkmanship.”
“I would be reluctant to start marking up my subcommittee bill unless we have an understanding on how we’re preceding on homeland security,” he said. “It’s a mistake to start doing bills without any clue how we’re going to land DHS.”
Lawmakers hope a handshake agreement on excluding poison pills will help them navigate around potential roadblocks.
Pressed on what the deal meant for border wall money, Immigration and Customs Enforcement funding and Trump’s ability to transfer money to help pay for the wall, Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden MORE (D-N.Y.) demurred.
“Well, some are poison pills, and some are not, but hopefully we can work all these out,” he told reporters.
A document released by Democrats detailing the budget agreement included an understanding that the appropriations bills will not include “poison pills, additional new riders, additional CHIMPS [changes in mandatory programs], or other changes in policy or conventions that allow for higher spending levels, or any non-appropriations measures unless agreed to on a bipartisan basis by the four leaders with the approval of the President.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnell'Justice for J6' rally puts GOP in awkward spot Republicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally House to act on debt ceiling next week MORE (R-Ky.) touted the document from the Senate floor as a “big win for the White House.”
“The administration has successfully kept far-left poison pills and policy riders entirely out of the process. We had heard that our Democratic colleagues across the Capitol were clamoring to take us backward on the issue of life. ... We had heard they were clamoring to try to handcuff the administration's important work on border security,” he said.
But lawmakers are already facing skepticism that the poison pill agreement will hold as they get into the trenches of the government funding negotiations,or that everyone will be able to agree on what has to be jettisoned from the talks.
“It helps conceptually, but then you get into the weeds. We’ll have to see what happens,” Shelby said.
Pressed on whether everyone agreed on what qualified as a poison pill, Shelby added, “Oh, good question. It begs the question. I gotta go now. That was a great question. ... We’ll have to see.”