Republicans start bracing for shutdown fight in run-up to election
Senate Republicans are growing concerned that rising tensions between President Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) could lead to a shutdown fight just weeks before the election and threaten their slim majority in the chamber.
There is widespread anxiety among GOP senators that Trump’s penchant for picking fights is a political liability as his response to nationwide protests against police brutality appears to be the cause of his declining approval ratings.
Republicans are now worried that he’s likely to pick a fight with Pelosi in September over government funding for the next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.
Trump and Pelosi’s relationship has only gotten worse since the 35-day government shutdown at the end of 2018 and beginning of 2019. The president regularly refers to her as “Crazy Nancy,” and last month Pelosi called him “morbidly obese.”
GOP lawmakers say the last thing they need a few weeks before the Nov. 3 election is a spending standoff and possible government shutdown, especially with 23 Republican Senate seats up for reelection and only 12 Democratic seats at stake.
The Senate has yet to pass any of the 12 appropriations bills. In the House, Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) announced that she intends to hold all subcommittee and full committee markups the weeks of July 6 and July 13.
Some Senate Republicans are discussing moving legislation that would prevent a government shutdown even if the annual appropriations bills haven’t been passed. The GOP senators say they’ve gotten a commitment from GOP leaders for a vote in the coming weeks.
“There’s some of us that would like to get back on that,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said after Republicans discussed it at a recent lunch meeting. “It has to do with the general dysfunction that we have here.”
He said Thursday the goal is to “get something in place before” a shutdown scenario arises and “to have it there where you get rid of shutting down the government as a lever that can be used by whoever chooses to do it.”
Braun added that there’s strong Republican support for the legislation, but it faces an uphill path to securing support from Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats who worry that automatically defaulting to long-term stopgap spending measures could take pressure off Congress to pass new spending bills every year.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, has previously opposed legislation that would permanently enact appropriations if Congress failed to act or the president vetoed spending legislation.
Some moderate Democrats, however, have expressed support in the past for legislation to prevent future shutdowns.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) last year introduced the Stop Stupidity Act, which would renew government funding at the same levels as the previous fiscal year, except for the legislative branch and the executive office of the president.
Braun said even if the legislation doesn’t become law, it would at least put Senate Republicans on record opposing a shutdown ahead of an anticipated fight over a stopgap spending measure to keep government agencies operating beyond Sept. 30.
“If Schumer and/or Pelosi wants to keep that open as an option, I think it will be pretty easy to connect the dots on whose fault it would be if we ever have a government shutdown,” he said.
“To me it would be the biggest thing we could do to at least be able to hold a stronger bargaining position that the government can’t shut down,” he said.
There’s concern among Republicans over which party would get the blame for a shutdown only a few weeks before an election in which Democrats are seen as having a growing chance of capturing the Senate GOP majority.
GOP lawmakers felt burned after the 2018-2019 shutdown, which was provoked by a fight primarily between Trump and Democratic leaders over the president’s demand for $5.7 billion in funding for a border wall between the United States and Mexico.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and a group of Senate Republicans have proposed the End Government Shutdowns Act, which would set up an automatic continuing resolution for any regular appropriations bill or existing stopgap spending measure to keep “the federal government open when negotiations falter before key spending deadlines,” according to an official summary of the proposal.
Braun said Republican senators hope to merge that with a measure he and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) sponsored — the No Budget, No Pay Act — that would require Congress to pass an annual budget and meet appropriations bill deadlines or forgo their own salaries until those goals are met. It passed out of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last year.
“At this point I think there’s going to be unanimity on just jumping on one,” he said, adding it was discussed by members of the Senate Republican Steering Committee among “those of us who want to pick something that we can all go arm-in-arm with.”
GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Steve Daines (Mont.), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), John Barrasso (Wyo.), Jim Risch (Idaho), Mike Lee (Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) have co-sponsored Portman’s bill.
Lee confirmed that government shutdown prevention legislation was discussed at one of the Senate Republican Steering Committee’s recent lunches.
“I like it,” he said. “We’re co-sponsors of several iterations of that.”
“It’s always a concern,” Lee said of a potential shutdown fight in September. “That’s why we need reforms.”
“I’d like to take that risk off the table,” he said.