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 Trump’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 Shelby (R-Ala.) said the next few days would be “crucial” as lawmakers have struggled to make progress this week.
“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 Mnuchin.
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.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (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 McConnell (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 Lowey (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 Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (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 Hoyer (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.”
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.
“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 Meadows (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.
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