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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 BidenCaitlyn Jenner says election was not 'stolen,' calls Biden 'our president' Manchin, Biden huddle amid talk of breaking up T package Overnight Energy: 5 takeaways from the Colonial Pipeline attack | Colonial aims to 'substantially' restore pipeline operations by end of week | Three questions about Biden's conservation goals 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 DurbinAmazon blocks 10B listings in crackdown on counterfeits DOJ faces big decision on home confinement America's Jewish communities are under attack — Here are 3 things Congress can do 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 PelosiThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden reverses Trump limits on transgender protections The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Infrastructure, Cheney ouster on deck as Congress returns This week: Congressional leaders to meet with Biden amid GOP reckoning MORE (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinDemocrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer Yellen provides signature for paper currency Biden's name will not appear on stimulus checks, White House says 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 SchumerHouse conservatives take aim at Schumer-led bipartisan China bill There will be no new immigration law under Biden, unless he changes course This week: Congressional leaders to meet with Biden amid GOP reckoning 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 MurphyKabul attack spurs fears over fate of Afghan women as US exits Sen. Murphy calls for Yemen's Houthis to accept ceasefire following trip to Middle East US, Iran signal possible breakthroughs in nuke talks 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 KaineManchin on collision course with Warren, Sanders On The Money: Incomes, consumer spending soared in March | Harris, senators work behind scenes on jobs package | Biden cancels some border wall construction Harris, senators work behind scenes on jobs package 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 LeahySenate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap On The Money: Democratic scramble complicates Biden's human infrastructure plan | Progressives push on student debt relief No designated survivor chosen for Biden's joint address to Congress 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 McConnellManchin, Biden huddle amid talk of breaking up T package Romney: Removing Cheney from House leadership will cost GOP election votes The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden reverses Trump limits on transgender protections 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 ShelbyRepublicans embrace Trump in effort to reclaim Senate Top Senate Democrat announces return of earmarks Senate GOP keeps symbolic earmark ban 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.”