Congress has four days before funding for some government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, runs out and results in a partial government shutdown.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking Monday night at the annual meeting of the Wall Street Journal CEO Council, said there would not be a government shutdown. That is not new -- it has been his position for months. The news in McConnell's remarks were, instead, this: it is no longer what happens in closed door congressional negotiations that will determine if there's a shutdown. It's whether Democratic Leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer can reach a deal with President Donald Trump in the days ahead.
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It's now up to three people to strike an agreement to keep the government open. Whether and how they'll get there remains a very open question -- Trump says the politics of a shutdown over the $5 billion he wants for the wall are good for him. Schumer says he won't budge off the $1.6 billion in border security agreed to in the Senate. Pelosi, still fighting to regain the speaker's gavel, is loathe to accept a deal that allows any wall money given her restive caucus and a looming leadership vote.
What McConnell said
Speaking of Trump and the dynamics of the year-end spending bill, McConnell said: "He and Schumer and Pelosi need to sit down and discuss how to resolve the differences." McConnell noted that although Republicans control Washington, Democrats are "not irrelevant," when it comes to spending is incredibly true. Any spending deal *must* have Democratic votes to pass in the Senate, where a 60-vote threshold stands to move anything forward and Republicans currently control 51 seats. In the House, for years the Democratic minority has been needed for GOP leaders to get any spending agreement across the finish line due to internal opposition.
When will Trump, Pelosi and Pelosi meet?
Still to be determined, aides say. Schumer and Pelosi were scheduled to head to the White House for talks Tuesday, but that meeting has been postponed on account of the death of former President George H.W. Bush.
The new deadline
House Republican leaders filed a stop-gap spending bill that would extend the government funding deadline to December 21, from December 7. The House canceled roll call votes this week, so it will need to pass the extension by voice vote at some point in the next four days. The Senate will then have to follow suit, by unanimous consent. It is expected to go smoothly, aides say, but it only takes one lawmaker to throw a wrench into things.
Pushing the deadline right up to Christmas certainly doesn't make anyone on Capitol Hill happy, but it does create another lever to get something done. Nobody wants to be in the Capitol for the holidays, particularly those lawmakers who lost in November.
Nobody on Capitol Hill -- even close Trump allies in the House -- is angling for a shutdown over border money at this point. Most everyone just wants to go home. But those same Trump allies won't abandon the President on his signature issue.
Where things stand overall
While negotiations over the wall funding broke down at the end of last week, negotiations over the rest of the year-end spending deal have continued in earnest and, those involved say, are in a good place. Remember, the wall funding is but one piece of a single appropriations bill (Department of Homeland Security) and there are six other measures in the package that have mostly been locked in. There are also continued talks and progress being made on a sizable disaster relief package for storms that hit in October.
Whenever something final is agreed to and leaders start looking for votes, it's the add-on (like disaster relief or, perhaps, tax extensions or other key wants/needs of various lawmakers) that often help get the year-end deal across the finish line.
Congress has passed, and the President has signed, 75% of government funding through September into law, including huge priorities like Pentagon, Education and Health and Human Services funding. That is not a small accomplishment based on the last decade-plus of appropriations wars.