Congress races to beat deadline on shutdown

Congress is racing the clock as they rush to prevent another shutdown poised to start in two weeks.

Though lawmakers have until Dec. 20 to get a funding bill to President TrumpDonald John TrumpNational Archives says it altered Trump signs, other messages in Women's March photo Dems plan marathon prep for Senate trial, wary of Trump trying to 'game' the process Democratic lawmaker dismisses GOP lawsuit threat: 'Take your letter and shove it' MORE’s desk, negotiators say they really have just a matter of days to reach a deal on the fiscal 2020 bills to prevent having to approve another stopgap measure, formally known as a continuing resolution (CR).

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyAppropriators fume over reports of Trump plan to reprogram .2 billion for wall The Hill's Morning Report — Impeachment tug-of-war expected to end soon McConnell tells GOP senators to expect impeachment trial next week MORE (R-Ala.) said the next few days would be “crucial” as lawmakers have struggled to make progress this week.

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“We’ve talked a lot and not done a lot. We’ve just got a few days,” Shelby said. “I’m not as optimistic as I was Sunday when I came back here.” 

The tight time frame has sparked a flurry of behind-the-scenes negotiations: Subcommittee heads are meeting around the Capitol, and Shelby spoke by phone on Wednesday with Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinSecurity for Trump's Mar-a-Lago visits cost local taxpayers million On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Senate approves Trump trade deal with Canada, Mexico | Senate Dems launch probe into Trump tax law regulations | Trump announces Fed nominees Senate Democrats launch investigation into Trump tax law regulations MORE

The border is the main sticking point, and negotiators have been swapping offers. The GOP-controlled Senate included $5 billion for the wall in its Department of Homeland Security (DHS) bill while the Democratic-run House included no new funding in its legislation. 

Beyond haggling over the amount of new money for barriers, there’s also a rolling debate over Immigration and Customs Enforcement beds and Trump’s ability to reallocate defense money to the border wall. 

Reports surfaced Wednesday that Trump would refuse to sign funding bills if there wasn’t some agreement on the wall. Eric Ueland, the White House director of legislative affairs, declined to say whether Trump would sign a fiscal 2020 package if it didn’t include a new measure for DHS. 

“The president has laid out from the beginning of the year in his budget his priorities, we believe that bringing all 12 bills through is important,” he said. 

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Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate implications Senators are politicians, not jurors — they should act like it MORE (D-N.Y.) warned Republicans that a wall was a “non-starter for Democrats” and that drawing red lines on the border could result in “another Trump shutdown.”

“We had hoped the president had learned his lesson, but it appears a year after losing the same battle, the president is considering a repeat of history,” Schumer said. 

Republicans, however, say Democrats are trying to break a two-year budget deal by including restrictions on Trump’s ability to shift money to the wall in the spending bills. 

“We’re stalled. We’re stalled because the agreement that we all reached in the summer has not been honored by the other side,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDems plan marathon prep for Senate trial, wary of Trump trying to 'game' the process Senate GOP mulls speeding up Trump impeachment trial Republicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment MORE (R-Ky.). 

Lawmakers have three options if they’re going to avoid a shutdown days before the Christmas holiday: Get a deal on the 12 fiscal 2020 bills, pass another stopgap bill, or some combination of both.

Subcommittee chairs are aiming to iron out their bills by Friday, which has been pinpointed as a soft deadline if legislators are to have enough time to write and pass the bills by Dec. 20. Any remaining issues are expected to be handed off to Shelby and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyOn The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Senate approves Trump trade deal with Canada, Mexico | Senate Dems launch probe into Trump tax law regulations | Trump announces Fed nominees House Democrats unveil .35B Puerto Rico aid bill Appropriators fume over reports of Trump plan to reprogram .2 billion for wall MORE (D-N.Y.), who will have to try to work them out. 

If they can’t get an agreement on all 12 bills, one option, floated by some Republicans, would be to pair less controversial full-year bills with a stopgap funding other parts of the government where disagreements remain.

“I think we’ve been for that all along,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate to vote on Trump's Canada, Mexico trade deal Thursday Senate braces for Trump impeachment trial Republicans face internal brawl over impeachment witnesses MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican.

Rep. Marcy KapturMarcia (Marcy) Carolyn KapturAppropriators face crucial weekend to reach deal Congress races to beat deadline on shutdown Overnight Defense: Trump clashes with Macron at NATO summit | House impeachment report says Trump abused power | Top Dem scolds military leaders on Trump intervention in war crimes cases MORE (D-Ohio), who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water, said that she believed a combination of spending bills and stopgaps would be the final outcome.

“Unfortunately I think it’s probably going to be a combo,” she said. “I think for the vast majority of federal responsibilities we will meet those in a normal way, but for some of the bills I’m not sure if they can resolve the remaining issues.”

Democratic leadership has continued to reject that approach, worried that funding some parts of the government would lower the political cost of a potential shutdown.

“My position is we need to pass all of the bills prior to us leaving here,” said House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse poised to hand impeachment articles to Senate House to vote on Iran war powers bills sought by progressives Khanna: Timing of Iran bill being weighed against getting bigger majority MORE (D-Md.). “I don’t want to contemplate having bills pushed over because if we can’t get agreement, then that’s going to be a partial shutdown.”  

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If Democrats, or the White House, won’t sign off on a combination measure, lawmakers will need to start haggling over the deadline for the next CR. With a Senate impeachment trial looming early next year, Shelby has floated that a stopgap could go past January. 

“I think people are already thinking about another CR now,” said Shelby, who added that people would have to start thinking of such a possibility by the end of next week.

Lowey told Democrats on Wednesday morning that she was “cautiously optimistic” that chairs of the 12 appropriations subcommittees could iron out their differences quickly. She was reticent to consider another stopgap.

“I’m not talking about a CR when we are discussing finishing the bills,” she said.

Faced with a similar situation last December, the Senate only passed a continuing resolution after Vice President Pence assured lawmakers that Trump would sign it. Instead, Trump changed his mind ahead of the House vote amid intense criticism from conservatives, who fumed that the stopgap bill did not include $5 billion for the wall. The flip-flop prompted a 35-day shutdown, the longest in the nation’s history.

Lowey acknowledged the uncertainty from Trump, but said negotiations would continue regardless.

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“I can never predict what this White House will do, will not do,” Lowey said. 

Ueland sidestepped when asked on Wednesday if Trump would sign another CR, saying that he didn’t “want to front-run the process underway on FY2020 bills.” 

But Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsRepublicans criticize Pelosi for gifting pens used to sign impeachment articles Trump, Democrats set for brawl on Iran war powers Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers MORE (R-N.C.), a close ally of the president, said Trump would sign a stopgap measure if necessary and was more focused on whether any new agreements in the fiscal 2020 bills would clash with a top-line spending deal struck over the summer. Specifically, he said, obstacles centered around abortion issues and Trump’s use of emergency powers to transfer defense funds for the wall.

“If she’s backing off that commitment, then there is a problem, because that’s a poison pill,” he said. “We’re looking for clarity from the Speaker and Secretary Mnuchin as to what was agreed to.” 

 

Cristina Marcos contributed.