Congress is once again running right up to the brink of a government shutdown. There is cautious optimism, but still work to be done. Progress has been made but the largest outstanding issues still stand. Everyone involved wants an agreement, but those same lawmakers and administration officials are still haggling over issues – large and small.
Negotiators have about 24 to 48 hours to wrap up an agreement on all 12 spending bills to have any chance to move them in such a short time frame. This is very, very tight – and a short-term off-ramp will be needed if nothing comes together before Monday.
Underscoring that point:
The “four corners” – the top Democratic and Republican appropriators in the House and Senate – are expected to speak this weekend.
That’s an important sign – anything not agreed to at a lower subcommittee level needs to be hammered out by those four, and they’ve got a good history of doing just that. But it’s a heavy lift.
Lawmakers have 14 days until the government runs out of money.
Time is the biggest enemy of any agreement. Beyond hammering out the very contentious policy issues, moving all 12 bills – no matter the vehicle – takes time. That is not something that is in abundance. There are two weeks and a laundry list of huge items outside of spending bills to deal with. This is akin to a legislative traffic jam staring everyone in the face. Right now it’s not out of the realm of possibility Democrats could attempt to move a government funding package, the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement approval, their prescription drug bill and the National Defense Authorization Act, and impeachment on that final week before Christmas. That’s a lot.
Once the House votes to impeach the President, it will essentially shut the Senate down until the trial is complete.
In other words, that vote likely needs to come after any spending vote for the Senate to have a chance to vote to keep the government open. That complicates things. Again, this is a traffic jam right now.
The outstanding issues:
There are a number of issues that need to be ironed out, and more have popped up in the last week as the individual subcommittees have worked (for the most part quite successfully, aides say) in closing out their respective bills. The biggest, however, remains the same: President Donald Trump’s border wall request and the transfer authority power that has allowed the administration to shift funds allocated for other things over to finance portions of the wall.
So will there be a shutdown:
Nobody is talking about a shutdown – including administration officials I’m talking to. If there isn’t a deal on all 12 bills, there will be a continuing resolution into 2020.
The real shutdown threat is that given the tight timeline and sheer mass of things on the 2019 to-do list, lawmakers somehow bumble into one. That’s not out of the realm of possibility, but not likely at this point, lawmakers and aides say.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to CNN’s Jake Tapper Thursday night, on this very issue:
“I don’t think we’re headed for a shutdown. I don’t think anybody wants that.”
She noted that if a global agreement on funding isn’t reached, there would be a continuing resolution into 2020.
Some 30,000-foot perspective from the Hill:
It’s difficult to overstate just how poisonous lawmakers from both parties, in both chambers, view the idea of another shutdown. The partial government shutdown that ended in January, the longest in US history, burned everyone. Not in the political sense – that blame landed squarely on the White House and Republicans – but in the sense of embarrassment about what had occurred from a governing perspective under their watch. Nobody wants that again.