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 BidenPelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' Hillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Fox News poll: Biden ahead of Trump in Nevada, Pennsylvania and Ohio 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 DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' Feinstein 'surprised and taken aback' by suggestion she's not up for Supreme Court fight Grand jury charges no officers in Breonna Taylor death 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 PelosiPelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline Trump signs largely symbolic pre-existing conditions order amid lawsuit MORE (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline Vulnerable Democrats tell Pelosi COVID-19 compromise 'essential' Pelosi asks panels to draft new COVID-19 relief measure 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 SchumerPelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' 3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing Cruz blocks amended resolution honoring Ginsburg over language about her dying wish 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 MurphyDemocratic senator calls for 'more flexible' medical supply chain to counter pandemics The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Don't expect a government check anytime soon GOP chairman to release interim report on Biden probe 'in about a week' 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 KaineHillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Democrats call for declassifying election threats after briefing by Trump officials Buttigieg stands in as Pence for Harris's debate practice 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 LeahyBipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs Democrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court Battle over timing complicates Democratic shutdown strategy 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 McConnellTrump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump faces backlash after not committing to peaceful transition of power 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 ShelbySenate to push funding bill vote up against shutdown deadline Senate GOP eyes early exit Dems discussing government funding bill into February 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.”