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Battle over timing complicates Democratic shutdown strategy

The November election is complicating the Democratic strategy in the looming government shutdown fight. 

Feeling momentum as they aim to win back the Senate and the White House, Democrats are divided over whether to agree to a the GOP-favored stopgap bill that lasts into December or push for a longer deal to fund the government into early 2021. 

A shorter bill, supporters hope, would force Congress to reach a larger funding deal before the end of the year. But a bill that lasts into next year would take a lame duck shutdown fight off the table and give Democrats more leverage if Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenDC residents jumped at opportunity to pay for meals for National Guardsmen Joe Biden might bring 'unity' – to the Middle East Biden shouldn't let defeating cancer take a backseat to COVID MORE is elected president.

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“We’ve gone back and forth, it’s a split decision in the caucus. If you can tell us what happens Nov. 3 it is a lot easier. ... The uncertainty about the presidential election is an element,” Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinCapitol insurrection fallout: A PATRIOT Act 2.0? Sunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus Overnight Health Care — Fauci: Lack of facts 'likely' cost lives in coronavirus fight | CDC changes COVID-19 vaccine guidance to allow rare mixing of Pfizer, Moderna shots | Senate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda MORE (Ill.) said when asked about the length of a bill.

Congress has until Sept. 30 to strike a deal and pass a stopgap funding bill known as a continuing resolution (CR), which will continue current funding levels and let Washington avoid a messy shutdown roughly a month before the election. 

Though House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus Calls grow for 9/11-style panel to probe Capitol attack Do Democrats really want unity? MORE (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinPence delivers coronavirus task force report to Biden Treasury imposes additional sanctions on Cuba over allegations of 'serious human rights abuse' Treasury Department sanctions inner circle of Russian agent Derkach for election interference MORE have informally agreed to a “clean” spending bill, they have not struck an agreement on the length of the legislation. 

Neither Pelosi nor Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerCapitol insurrection fallout: A PATRIOT Act 2.0? Schumer calls for DOJ watchdog to probe alleged Trump effort to oust acting AG Student loan forgiveness would be windfall for dentists, doctors and lawyers MORE (N.Y.) have publicly endorsed a timeline. A House Democratic aide noted that behind-the-scenes negotiations about what the strategy should be are ongoing.

“We are now looking at anomalies in the rest, and we’ll figure out the timing when we do,” Pelosi said during her weekly press conference.

Schumer added that Democrats were “discussing what time the CR should go to and we haven't formulated our position yet.” 

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Some Democrats are open to a stopgap bill into December, arguing that they want to finish work on the fiscal 2021 bills by the end of the year. That could let Democrats focus on other legislative priorities next year and avoid an immediate funding fight. 

“I think we could get a good package done in the lame duck,” said Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyTensions running high after gun incident near House floor Democrats float 14th Amendment to bar Trump from office Senate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee MORE (D-Conn.), a member of the Appropriations Committee. “I’m never a fan of CRs in general and not a fan of long CRs. I’d like to believe we could use the lame duck to write a good budget.” 

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineTrump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8 Democrats float 14th Amendment to bar Trump from office Trump impeachment article being sent to Senate Monday MORE (D-Va.) said he thought the funding bill should go into mid-to-late December, adding “we ought to try to wrap it all up before Christmas.” 

There’s no guarantee a December deadline would force Congress to reach an agreement on full fiscal 2021 bills, and doing so during the lame duck could be a herculean legislative task.

The House is scheduled to be in session for 13 days between the election and the end of the year. And while the House has already passed 10 of the 12 fiscal 2021 government funding bills, the Senate hasn’t even introduced one amid a standoff on amendment votes. 

Others are pushing for a longer bill that would keep the government funded into next year. That strategy would avoid a year-end shutdown fight, and could give Democrats more leverage to craft a package in 2021 that includes more of their priorities if November goes well for the party.

Polls show Biden leading Trump, and the battle for the Senate majority has moved in Democrats’ favor compared to the start of the cycle.

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyDemocrats seek answers on impact of Russian cyberattack on Justice Department, Courts Senate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee Democrats swear in three senators to gain majority MORE (Vt.), the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, is pushing for a longer CR, and has floated a bill that goes as far as into March. 

“I would prefer a longer one. ... I think it gives more stability and saves money” Leahy said. 

But passing a stopgap bill into early next year could add to what is expected to be a lengthy legislative to-do list for Democrats if they win back the White House and hold majorities in the House and Senate for the first time since President Obama’s first two years in office. 

“I’ve heard it argued both ways. But I just want to tell you that if we have a new president, a new administration and even new leadership in the Senate it’s going to be a very busy January,” Durbin said. 

Demanding a longer CR would set up a clash with Republicans, who are supportive of passing a continuing resolution that runs into December. Congress has a tight timeline to haggle over the funding bill. When the House convenes on Monday, it will have 12 legislative days until the Sept. 30 deadline. 

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden leans on Obama-era appointees on climate Kentucky Republican committee rejects resolution urging McConnell to condemn Trump impeachment Calls grow for 9/11-style panel to probe Capitol attack MORE (R-Ky.) told reporters this week that he would back a “clean” CR that goes into December. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Overnight Defense: Trump impeached for second time | National Guard at Capitol now armed, swelling to 20K troops for inauguration | Alabama chosen for Space Command home Space Command to be located in Alabama MORE (R-Ala.) indicated that Mnuchin is also supportive of the timeline. 

“We’re advocating a December deal. That’s what the leader wants, that’s what I want; I think Mnuchin is on board on that,” Shelby said. 

Asked about some Democrats wanting a longer stopgap bill, Shelby noted that he had spoken with Leahy but “I told him we weren’t going to do that.”