Congress faces sprint to avoid another shutdown

Congress is bracing for a three-week sprint to avoid the second government shutdown of the year.

Lawmakers are returning to Washington on Monday, and they’ll have 16 working days to reach a deal to fund the government by Oct. 1 or pass a spending patch to kick the fight closer to the holidays. 

But the House and Senate are coming back to town with plans to move forward on different tracks. House Democrats are focused on passing a continuing resolution (CR), while Senate Republicans are set to make a late start at moving fiscal 2020 bills. 

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House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerProcedural politics: What just happened with the coronavirus bill? DC argues it is shortchanged by coronavirus relief bill Lysol, disinfecting wipes and face masks mark coronavirus vote in House MORE (D-Md.) outlined his plan in a “Dear Colleague” letter while knocking Senate Republicans for failing to “introduce a single appropriations bill for the first time in more than three decades.” 

“As we wait for them to complete their work so that we can begin conference negotiations, a continuing resolution will be necessary to prevent another government shutdown like the one we experienced earlier this year, which harmed thousands of American families,” Hoyer wrote in his letter to House Democrats. 

Leadership hasn’t formally announced how long a CR, which would continue funding levels at fiscal 2019 levels, would last. 

A House Democratic aide said the spending patch would likely go until either late November or early December but pegged the most likely end date as Nov. 22. That would put the next spending deadline up against a weeklong Thanksgiving recess, with lawmakers expected to leave Washington by the 22nd.

But Senate leadership hasn’t yet signed on to the House’s CR plan, as lawmakers have been dispersed across the country. 

The Democratic aide noted that House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyHouse Democrats unveil coronavirus economic response package Biden rolls out over a dozen congressional endorsements after latest primary wins Trump, Congress struggle for economic deal under coronavirus threat MORE (D-N.Y.) hadn’t spoken with Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyFive things being discussed for a new coronavirus relief bill Infrastructure bill gains new steam as coronavirus worsens Coronavirus bill includes more than billion in SNAP funding MORE (R-Ala.) about a CR but predicted they would speak this week when they are both back in the Capitol. 

“We are operating under the assumption that we have to do one. I think the Senate is too far behind,” the aide said. “So the one we bring up on the floor the week of [the] 16th will be a full CR, covering all 12 bills.” 

The aide added that in an "ideal world" by the time the House votes on the CR it would reflect an agreement with the Senate and that it was "more likely" the stopgap will have Senate buy-in by the time it comes up on the House floor. 

Senate Republicans, however, are pushing forward with their plan to start work on the 12 individual appropriations bills. 

Lawmakers need to pass 12 appropriations bills, either individually or as a package. While the House has already passed 10 of the 12 bills, the Senate held back while Trump and congressional leadership negotiated a two-year budget deal. 

Shelby announced on Friday that his committee would vote on four bills on Thursday: labor, health and human services, and education; energy and water; and state and foreign operations. They're also planning to approve top-line figures, known as 302(b)s, for all 12 appropriations bills. 

Republicans want to avoid a repeat of last winter's partial shutdown, where roughly a quarter of the government was closed for 35 days because of a fight over the U.S.-Mexico border wall. Causing headaches for the party, President TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor NBA to contribute 1 million surgical masks to NY essential workers Private equity firm with ties to Kushner asks Trump administration to relax rules on loan program: report MORE said during a televised meeting with Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerBiden calls on Trump to appoint coronavirus 'supply commander' Democrats press Trump, GOP for funding for mail-in ballots Schumer doubles down in call for Trump to name coronavirus supply czar MORE (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor Pelosi, Democrats using coronavirus to push for big tax cuts for blue state residents US watchdog vows 'aggressive' oversight after intel official fired MORE (D-Calif.) that he would “take the mantle” for a shutdown. 

"We've got to get the appropriations bills passed to prevent a government shutdown, which I think represents the ultimate failure to govern,” Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus GOP presses for swift Ratcliffe confirmation to intel post Campaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus MORE (R-Maine), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said during an interview with Maine Public Radio.  

Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunDemocrats, Trump set to battle over implementing T relief bill Senate GOP looking at ,200 in coronavirus cash payments GOP divided on next steps for massive stimulus package MORE (R-Ind.) predicted that a shutdown likely wouldn’t happen because “Republicans get caught holding the bag on that one.” 

But Braun added that he likely would not support a CR unless it also reined in spending, underscoring the conservative backlash leadership could face as it tries to keep the government open. 

Senate Republicans are hoping to get at least one package to Trump’s desk before Oct. 1. Shelby and other Republican members of the Senate Appropriations Committee have talked up trying to get a package that merged defense; labor, health and human services, and education; and potentially energy and water development to Trump despite the tight time frame.  

"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," Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus Five things being discussed for a new coronavirus relief bill Hillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike MORE (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee told The Hill shortly before the recess.

If lawmakers were able to get one package through, that would still leave some of the most controversial areas, including funding for the Department of Homeland Security, for later in the year. 

The White House is also asking for Congress to lift a restriction on wall spending that limits construction to the Rio Grande River Valley. A House Democratic aide confirmed that the caucus is opposed to loosening the restrictions, setting up a likely flashpoint for the talks about the stopgap spending bill. 

Schumer, in a letter to his Democratic colleagues, said their fall priorities included "avoiding another unnecessary, harmful Trump shutdown as we continue the appropriations process for the year ahead." But Schumer provided no hints about what red lines the caucus could draw as it negotiates the fiscal 2020 funding bills. 

House Democrats argue that any talk of trying to get a package of fiscal 2020 bills to Trump’s desk this month is unfeasible because of the tight timeline and would set up a similar dynamic that led to the last shutdown. 

Last year, Congress had passed funding for five bills but still needed to get a deal on other pieces of government funding, including the Department of Homeland Security. Instead, the government plunged into the longest shutdown in modern history. 

A Hoyer aide said that he would not back supporting part of the fiscal 2020 bills and then a short-term CR for the rest of the government “unless agreement on other outstanding matters happened first.” 

“For instance, at a minimum, we would need to reach bipartisan and bicameral agreement on all 302(b) subcommittee allocations ahead of considering such a package. We are likely going to need a CR to allow for that negotiation considering Senate appropriators won’t have bills introduced and reported out for at least another week,” the aide added. 

Another House Democratic aide separately dismissed talk of trying to get a package of fiscal 2020 bills as unrealistic. 

“There’s not enough time to do that. Even if the Senate Republicans somehow moved very quickly, I don’t think we have an interest in moving some bills but not all of them,” the aide added. “There’s no conceivable situation where we would pass some bills before Sept. 30 and leave others on a CR.”