Lawmakers buy more time for spending deal
Republican and Democratic leaders on Monday agreed to a two-week stopgap spending measure that would put to rest fears of a partial government shutdown later this week.
The short-term spending deal, if passed, would fund government agencies and extend expiring programs such as the National Flood Insurance Program through Dec. 21. It also would postpone a fight over funding levels for President Trump’s proposed border wall.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said his goal “is to fund the government, to try to work around where we are.”
“We’re obviously working toward an impasse,” he said on Monday. “We’ve got now until the 21st.”
Shelby was spotted Monday afternoon linked arm-in-arm with Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), the most senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, as members of the Senate made their way together to the Capitol Rotunda, where former President George H.W. Bush will lie in state until Wednesday morning.
Appetite for a rancorous fight over the border wall with Mexico subsided over the weekend following Bush’s death. The 41st president’s passing upended what was expected to be an intense week of negotiations ahead of a Dec. 7 funding deadline.
Instead, lawmakers and much of Washington will spend the next few days remembering Bush, who was known for his character, steadiness and ability to cut deals with the other side.
Following Bush’s death, Trump and Democratic leaders canceled a meeting scheduled for Tuesday, when the border wall was to be discussed. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) then canceled votes for the week, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) postponed Senate business until Wednesday afternoon.
The pause in action gives lawmakers more time to negotiate a bigger deal that addresses funding for Trump’s top policy priority, a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
But Republicans acknowledge that the chances of reaching a significant agreement on border security and immigration are dropping with each passing day. At this point, they are scrambling to find a way for Trump to declare victory on border security and avoid a shutdown they fear would inflict political damage on their party heading into the 2020 election cycle.
GOP lawmakers say they want to avoid a shutdown and have told the president and Vice President Pence that provoking one would be counterproductive.
“I never thought they would do it anyway,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said of a partial government shutdown. “No one comes off well.”
The only carrot that Trump could dangle in front of Democrats to get them to agree to fully fund his border security request would be an offer to restore protections for immigrants who came to the country as illegally children. The president put that group at risk when he rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program last year.
Republican and Democratic sources say they don’t see any type of grand bargain emerging.
“The idea that they’re going to do a big exchange for DACA right now does not strike me as tenable,” said a Senate Republican strategist. “This has been discussed many, many times before.”
“The president is going to have to figure out how to define victory, and it’s going to be somewhere between $1.6 billion and $5 billion,” the source added, referring to the $1.6 billion in additional border security money that Democrats have agreed to and the $5 billion that Trump has requested. “He has to find a way to define what that victory is.”
A senior Democratic aide pointed to a tweet from Trump on Monday as a sign he is backing away from his threat to shutter the vulnerable government agencies by instead vowing to close the border.
“We would save Billions of Dollars if the Democrats would give us the votes to build the Wall. Either way, people will NOT be allowed into our Country illegally! We will close the entire Southern Border if necessary,” the president wrote.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said last week he is not willing to add funds for border security beyond the $1.6 billion provided in the bipartisan Homeland Security appropriations bill the Senate passed over the summer. An alternative, he said, was to simply extend 2018 funding for the Department of Homeland Security through a continuing resolution alongside new versions of the other six remaining spending bills.
Democrats feel confident that Republicans would get most of the blame for any shutdown.
“The Republicans are in control of the presidency, the House and the Senate. A shutdown is on their back,” Schumer told reporters last week.
As a result, a GOP plan spearheaded by Shelby to provide $5 billion in funds over two years has gained little traction.
The new Dec. 21 deadline raises the stakes, potentially setting up a showdown that would affect thousands of federal workers and close national parks across the country just days ahead of Christmas.
“It could make us all come together, or it could drive us further apart. We don’t know yet. I’ve been here on Christmas Eve,” Shelby said.
Unlike many previous showdowns, however, this funding lapse would affect only part of the government. Congress appropriated about 75 percent of its annual spending in five appropriations bills ahead of Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
The remaining seven bills cover, among other things, transportation, state and foreign operations, the Commerce and Justice departments, and, crucially, the Department of Homeland Security, the bill that would include any potential wall funding.
Jordain Carney contributed.