Hill leaders take first steps to prevent year-end shutdown
Congress faces a myriad of complicated year-end fiscal issues, the most important of which is keeping the government funded.
With that in mind, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced plans Thursday to pass a short-term spending bill to keep Washington open while budget talks continue.
“If the Senate Democrats choose to filibuster that they will have chosen to shut the government down, something that we do not want to see,” Ryan warned at a news conference.
But Senate Democrats swiftly signaled they would likely agree to a stopgap bill and put off a fight over other hot-button issues — like children’s health insurance and immigration — at least for a couple of weeks.
Ryan did not say how long the spending bill would go through, but multiple aides expect it will last through the Friday before Christmas, December 22.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, also said Republicans there would likely back the plan.
“If that’s what the House does, then I think we’re kind of stuck with that, but it’s not optimal in my view,” he said, referencing that short-term spending bills aren’t the best way to operate the government.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said negotiations over the spending bill are ongoing, but made a point to shift blame to the GOP if no agreement is reached.
“The Republicans have a majority in the House and the Senate and the White House, the responsibility to keep the government open is theirs in the majority,” Pelosi said.
Funding for the government is set to expire December 8, so the chambers will have to act before then.
Hill leaders don’t want a shutdown
The quick acceptance by leaders in both parties to a short-term funding deal and public statements that they want to reach a broader deal on the year-end issues, was in sharp contrast to the caustic exchanges between President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leaders ahead of a scheduled meeting Tuesday.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi backed out of the session after Trump tersely tweeted he doubted he could cut a deal with “Chuck and Nancy.”
On the Senate floor Wednesday night, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Schumer held a short, relaxed, and seemingly substantive conversation that included smiles, laughs and even a pat on a shoulder as it concluded.
The upbeat interaction between the two leaders went largely unnoticed amid the swirl of activity during a vote.
While aides won’t say what the two leaders talked about — and insist they talk regularly — their easy exchange may be a good sign for people worried about a potential government shutdown: Despite Trump’s bluster and unorthodox style, these two ideologically dissimilar leaders are taking a pragmatic and hands on approach to the looming crisis.
To solve the broad array of outstanding issues, they will need to start by reaching a deal to increase budget caps on defense and domestic spending — which aides in each party insist is the lynchpin to a larger deal — and then negotiate differences over a series of spending bills, disaster aid, the national flood insurance program, children’s health insurance and stabilizing the Affordable Care Act marketplace.
Republicans are pushing to significantly increase defense spending but Democrats say while they can support more money for the military it has to come with more resources for domestic spending or things like health, education and opioid crisis.
Aides said that if they can reach a deal on these complex issues before Christmas, Congress will likely pass another short-term spending bill into January to allow appropriators time to write an omnibus spending bill that would fund the government through September, the end of the fiscal year.
Immigration and other thorny issues
But even if they can resolve those disputes, the most contentious and emotional issue they want to resolve could still stifle a deal later in December. What to do about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, the Obama-era protocol that allows children brought to the US illegally by their parents to stay in the country. The President announced the program would end in March, and left it up to Congress to figure out next steps.
Many Democrats want a DACA fix added to a government funding deal, and because the GOP needs help from Democrats passing a final package, they have leverage to force reluctant Republicans to accept it. In return, Republicans want a robust border security package, something Trump campaigned on, but many Democrats are resisting.
Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in the House are maintaining that they won’t agree to a spending deal that doesn’t include a DACA fix.
Many Republicans want to get some sort of deal on the DACA issue done at the end of this year or early in 2018 because they worry that if left hanging out there it will be politically perilous for them as it gets closer to the midterm election next November.
Asked about Democrats’ push to include something to address DACA as part of a year-end spending, Ryan lashed out at Pelosi and Schumer for skipping the White House meeting earlier this week, saying, “you have to show up if you want to make your point and I don’t think the Democrats are in a very good position to be making demands if you’re not even going to participate in the negotiations that are necessary to move legislation forward and to solve problems.”
But he didn’t rule out merging the issues, saying, “the deadline is March as far as I understand it, we’ve got other deadlines in front of that like fiscal year deadlines and appropriations deadlines, but if they want to get to a solution they ought to get to the table and start talking.”
But some conservatives are incredulous and warn injecting immigration policy into the spending bill is a non-starter.
“Immigration is not going to get lumped into this thing,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican, noting both McConnell and Ryan have said that they won’t include it. “I see including DACA on a spending bill as a non-starter.”
Another controversial issue, fixing Obamacare, is also on the to-do list.
In recent days, moderate Republicans like Sen. Susan Collins of Maine have made it a priority to get assurances from the Trump administration that they will back an Obamacare stabilization bill that she says will be needed if the GOP repeals the individual mandate in the tax bill. Collins is also asking for a reinsurance program, which she says could be tucked into an end of the year spending bill.
During a lunch Tuesday with Senate Republicans, Trump said he supported the provisions and Collins said she spoke with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly about the plan, but House conservatives are dubious. Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio and member of the House Freedom Caucus, told CNN he was opposed to “bailing out insurance companies” as part of a year-end spending bill.
“Look, it’s not that complicated. What did we tell the voters we were going to do? I don’t think we told them we are going to have the largest spending increase since the stimulus. I don’t think we told them we were going to bail out insurance companies, and I don’t think we told them that we were going to give amnesty to people who came here illegally right? It’s not that complicated,” he said.
Another issue is disaster aid. Many lawmakers, including Republicans from Texas and Florida, are upset at the amount of money the Trump administration is seeking for disaster aid. They want tens of billions more to respond to the hurricane’s and wildfires that struck many areas of the US in recent months.