The federal government is headed toward a partial shutdown if Republicans and Democrats in Congress can't resolve a standoff over President Donald Trump's demands to fund the border wall. Many government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, will run out of funding on December 7 if Congress does not act soon.
There will almost certainly not be a shutdown this week on account of the death of former President George H.W. Bush. But, according to multiple people involved, consider this a brief respite from what looms ahead. The fight is still happening behind the scenes -- and will spill back into public next week.
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Talks between Republican and Democratic negotiators had more or less fallen apart on Friday, and this weekend things haven't progressed toward a resolution at all, according to several sources with direct knowledge of the talks. There now will likely be more time -- and with more time, more opportunities to find a path forward. But as of Monday morning, nobody in either party has a good sense of how -- or when -- this will end.
As a practical matter, with Bush to lie in state in the US Capitol Rotunda, the bandwidth (and floor time) to move forward on a year-end funding package is limited.
As a symbolic matter, lawmakers wandering into yet another government shutdown this Congress is a fairly bad look given Bush's legacy as a man and president, which will be remembered in detail after detail, tribute after tribute all week.
What to watch this week
When lawmakers act on a short-term stop-gap bill to give them more time before the funding deadline -- and for how long that bill extends the deadline.
Days until the government shuts down:
5* (*Expect this to be extended.)
Congressional leadership spent the last 24 hours gauging the support for one- and two-week stopgap funding bills, but even that has run into some issues, sources say.
Republicans are angling for a two-week extension, while Democrats have signaled they would prefer a one-week extension.
The play for the two-week version, per Republicans, comes down to three fundamental reasons:
- More time to negotiate
- Opens up floor space for the raft of other must-pass legislative items that need to be cleared before year-end
- Puts the deadline right up against Christmas. Few things help beat back dug-in opposition than missing the holidays/vacation plans.
Trump told reporters this weekend he was open to as much as a two-week extension, so we'll see where this ends up in the next 24 hours.
As one GOP aide put it on Sunday: "Not sure what two more weeks gives us at this point, except for more time to disagree. Something else needs to change the dynamic." The point here is this: things, at this moment, are headed towards a shutdown, and the broader concern is if a shutdown occurs, nobody is exactly sure how anyone would get out of it before the new Congress.
Yes, people involved in these talks say they are actively considering the possibility that this doesn't get solved until after the New Year.
Senate Republican chiefs of staff were informed by leadership Friday, before Bush's death, that they should prepare their bosses to stay in Washington well into December, several told CNN.
Keep in mind, nearly 75% of the government is funded through September 2019, including key priority agencies like the Pentagon, Health, Labor and Education. This will not be a massively disruptive shutdown.
But keep in mind, just because a shutdown wouldn't be as disruptive as those in the past doesn't mean lawmakers on the Hill want to do it. In fact, even hardline House Republicans have floated to leaders pushing off the funding fight until early next year, according to sources. Lawmakers don't want to spend Christmas at work, with one another, away from their families. Now if they can just get the President to agree to that...
The tried-and-true escape hatch
When in doubt, lawmakers can always just pass a stop-gap bill to get them beyond the holidays, or beyond the first few months of the year. Democrats are opposed to anything that doesn't reach until the end of the fiscal year -- they want the decks clear for the new House majority. And nobody thinks the President would sign one either.
But when things get particularly bad, never forget that this is the escape hatch that has worked for years -- so long as everyone agrees (or has just gotten too tired of one another).
Where the players stand
People who have spoken to the President in recent days about this say they have picked up no hint that he's willing to back down on his request for $5 billion in border wall money. His view, as repeatedly stated publicly and on Twitter, is that the fight is beneficial for him -- even if his allies on Capitol Hill don't really want it to a lead to a government shutdown. In other words, if Trump is going to come off his position, he hasn't signaled it yet, the people said.
Republicans have, to some degree, found themselves playing middle man between the White House and Democrats, attempting to find some way to thread the needle between the two sides, who are currently separated by about $3.4 billion. Republicans pitched -- and, sources say, the President reluctantly signed off to Senate Majority Leader McConnell -- on advanced appropriations, or guaranteed border funding spread over a two-year period. But that hasn't brought them closer to a deal.
Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer took to the floor last week to offer Trump two options:
1. The bipartisan Senate-passed Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill, which includes $1.6 billion for border security.
2. Fund DHS with a continuing resolution for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Neither of those will fly, Republican aides say, and Democrats generally know that, so don't consider it a final offer.
But the position is based on this: The $1.6 billion number was what the White House originally requested. It was agreed upon -- and passed -- by the Senate on a bipartisan basis. Add that to the fact that a good portion of the $1.3 billion in border security approved earlier this year has not been spent, and Democrats say they don't understand why they should be the ones moving anywhere in this negotiation.
The House GOP position has remained the same -- even in the wake of the midterm shellacking, they passed a DHS funding bill with $5 billion for border security. That's their number, and they are sticking to it. Here's the reality there: the House Republican conference is Trump's conference. Leaders have made clear their rank and file have no desire to split with the President on the topline number. And some have acknowledged it wouldn't be a bad thing if this all didn't get resolved until Democrats were back in control in the House.
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi repeatedly told CNN's Ashley Killough on Friday that there could not be a shutdown, and that Democrats "don't believe in shutdowns." Pelosi's caucus, and her place atop it, remains somewhat of an open question as they pertain to the spending negotiations, people involved say. Democrats, as they often have while they've been in the minority, will be needed to get any final spending package over the finish line. How many can be delivered for border funding of any kind?