Democrats scramble to figure out shutdown strategy

Democrats are trying to lock down their strategy for a looming government shutdown fight, as they debate punting into early 2022 or setting up another deadline closer to Christmas. 

Congress has until the end of Dec. 3 to pass another government funding bill after using a short-term patch, known as a continuing resolution (CR), to get them past the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal 2022 funding year. 

No decisions have been made on how long to extend government funding after the early December deadline, and there are competing schools of thought within House and Senate Democrats about what their next step should be. 

One option under discussion is to pass a two-week CR, which would extend current spending levels, to fund the government through roughly Dec. 17. But a source told The Hill that top Democrats are supporting a funding bill that would last until February or March. 

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) acknowledged that Democrats were debating passing a stopgap bill that would last until mid-December or going “longer.” 

“I’d like to keep the pressure on. On the other hand, there’s a lot going on,” said Van Hollen, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Democrats who favor the shorter stopgap that would set up another funding cliff closer to Christmas say they want to keep pressure on Republicans to cut a deal on fiscal 2022 funding. 

“I think we would be much better off doing a short-term CR. We need to keep the pressure on Republicans to do their job,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), another member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

Though top members of the Senate and House appropriations committees met earlier this month to talk about funding the government, they’ve made little progress toward the type of sweeping deal that would set top-line numbers and let them pass all 12 fiscal 2022 funding bills. 

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), in a letter to House Democrats, said that she wants an end-of-year government funding deal, an apparent indirect push for a weeks-long CR instead of passing a stopgap bill that goes into 2022. 

“I will continue to fight for a negotiated omnibus appropriations bill. … But beginning those robust discussions requires Republicans to come to the table with their own proposal for fiscal year 2022 appropriations, so that we can reconcile our differences and enact an omnibus in December,” DeLauro wrote. 

And other Democrats are warning that a longer a CR goes, the more money is wasted. 

“The longer a continuing resolution goes, the more it costs the taxpayers, because you waste billions of dollars because people can’t make decisions,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said. 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), while cautioning that he needs to talk with DeLauro, told reporters, “I think it ought to be sooner rather than later. The CR is a very negative piece of legislation, and the longer it goes the more harmful it is to the operations of our government.” 

But setting up a December government funding deadline would add another item on Congress’s end-of-year to-do list. The Senate is currently debating a massive defense policy bill and still needs to finish negotiating and take up President Biden’s social and climate spending bill that the House is aiming to pass this week. They are also facing a moving target for when they need to raise the debt ceiling after approving a short-term debt hike earlier this year. 

And it’s not clear that negotiators could come to an agreement and draft the massive spending package in a matter of weeks. 

Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, appeared skeptical that they would be able to get a spending deal as an omnibus by mid-December, suggesting that lawmakers will have to end up passing another CR into February or March regardless — either heading into the Dec. 3 deadline or two weeks later, if they do a short-term patch.

“I think it’s not impossible. It would be very difficult. It would be hard to get,” Shelby said about the chances for a year-end spending deal. 

The split over how long to fund the government after Dec. 3 comes as senators say they are confident there won’t be a shutdown in a matter of weeks, but appear frustrated about the lack of progress toward a larger spending deal. 

“Oh god. Do you want to be hung by a rope or a knife?” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, asked about a mid-December stopgap or going into 2022. “I’d just as soon get our appropriations bills passed so we don’t have to have a CR.” 

Asked about the length of a CR, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), another member of the committee, initially said he thought “the longer the better,” before walking himself back and saying that he wants to see full-year appropriations bills. 

“I just want to get the regular appropriations bills passed,” he said.

Asked if he thought a Dec. 17 deadline would help keep pressure on, he added: “I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine.” 

Tags Chris Murphy Chris Van Hollen Dick Durbin Joe Biden Jon Tester Patrick Leahy Richard Shelby Rosa DeLauro Steny Hoyer

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