After a tentative deal struck by a bipartisan group of senators unraveled last week amid reports that President Donald Trump had referred to El Salvador, Haiti and a host of African countries as “shitholes”, odds of a government shutdown climbed dramatically as many observers now believe the Republican majority won’t be able to cobble together a compromise in time for the Friday at midnight deadline.
On Wednesday morning, both Republicans and Democrats were polling their caucuses after Republican leaders presented a one-month spending “stopgap” bill hoping to extend government spending until Feb. 16, thereby kicking the can yet again.
According to the Washington Post, the bill would extend existing spending levels through Feb. 16 and include an extension of a popular children’s health insurance program – aimed at winning Democratic votes – while delaying several taxes included in the Affordable Care Act. Few lawmakers were enthusiastic about the legislation, but several described it as “a necessary evil” to avoid the first government shutdown since 2013. Though according to Politico Republicans likely wouldn’t be able to secure passage in the House without Democratic support.
Democratic and Republican party leaders had aimed to strike a long-term spending deal – what would be the first for the Trump administration – on Friday before the deadline at midnight. But Democrats have resisted striking a deal to raise spending caps unless Republicans agree to enshrine protections for young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as minors.
While lawsuits challenging President Trump’s decision to cancel an Obama-era executive order that created DACA have yet to be resolved, protections for the 690,000 so-called Dreamers are set to expire in March unless Congress codifies the program into law, have been described as a nonnegotiable Democratic priority.
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Assuming this week’s stopgap bills passes, it would be the fourth since September. Short-term funding resolutions aren’t ideal because they make it difficult for agencies to plan their budgets, and keep government hostage to backdoor negotiations.
Among the hurdles faced by Speaker Paul Ryan is that he would need to marshal 218 Republican votes to overcome united Democratic opposition.
Rep. Mark Amodei of Nevada said Republican leaders urged lawmakers to get behind the bill and make sure it could garner the votes needed without having to appeal to Democrats. “Keep the power of 218 going so you don’t weaken the majority position by having to get votes from the minority,” he said.
“We are where we are, and I think it’s important to fund the government and do these other things,” said Rep. Tom MacArthur of New Jersey. MacArthur accused Democrats of “the height of stubbornness” if they vote against the bill because it doesn’t include a solution for “dreamers,” hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.
Ideally, Republican leaders are hoping to bring the bill to a vote on Thursday, as it is doubtful it’d be ready before then.
However, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who chairs the conservative Freedom Caucus, said that the legislation doesn’t yet have the votes needed to pass and he hasn’t decided how to vote. He dismissed the health-care tax delays as “window dressing.”
The Freedom Caucus huddled late Tuesday to discuss the legislation, and Meadows emerged dour about its prospects: “At this point with the undecided votes and no votes in the conference there are not enough votes to pass a [continuing resolution] with Republicans only,” he said.
Assuming it passes the House, the bill would then head to the Senate.
In the wake of “shithole-gate”, Democrats are coming under increasing pressure from the progressive, anti-Trump wing of the party to force the government into a shutdown if Republicans don’t concede on DACA and border-wall funding.
Democrats have leverage in the spending fight because their votes are needed to keep the government open – definitely in the Senate but possibly also in the House unless Republicans can unify behind the short-term proposal.
At this rate, a shutdown is looking increasingly likely, unless a deal comes together within the next few hours. The final legislation would still need to be drafted, distributed and debated, with little more than 48 hours left until the deadline arrives.