Lawmakers are just two days away from the expiration of the continuing resolution that's been funding the government for the last two months, and yet many battles over a host of intractable issues are still being fought. At this point, passing something by midnight Friday – when the continuing resolution expires -is looking increasingly problematic.
Adding to the uncertainty are reports that President Donald Trump believes a shutdown could be spun as a political victory for Republicans by blaming it on the Democrats (it worked for Obama) – remarks that would seem to invalidate Mitch McConnell’s declaration that a shutdown “just isn’t going to happen."
Looming largest over negotiations is the fate of former President Obama’s DACA program – which is set to expire in March thanks to a Trump executive order. Most – but not all – Democrats want language preserving DACA attached to the funding bill – as a preliminary deal struck between Trump and “Chuck and Nancy” back in September had stipulated. Many Republicans – even many of those who ultimately support preserving DACA – feel it shouldn’t be attached to the spending bill.
Aside from preserving DACA, there are two other legislative priorities that Democrats and some moderate Republicans are fighting to include in the spending bill: An extension of a popular child health-insurance program, and a provision that would preserve federal cost-sharing payments to insurance companies for a couple of years.
Meanwhile, some conservatives are objecting to the two-week timeline favored by the Republican leadership, arguing that such a short timeline would give lawmakers more leverage to push for favors by threatening to make problems by holding tax reform hostage – something Republicans have promised to pass by the end of the year.
Democrats, and several dozen moderate Republicans, want to see a legislative solution for immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children — known as “Dreamers” — before the end of the year. Democrats and some Republicans in the Senate also hope to pass bipartisan legislation to shore up the Affordable Care Act marketplace, and lawmakers hope to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Also lingering are the expiring federal flood insurance program, and another round of disaster relief money for areas damaged by hurricanes.
As the Hill points out, many Democrats would refuse to support a spending bill unless it includes the protections for undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), all prospects to run for president in three years, say they won’t vote for a year-end funding bill while these immigrants face the threat of deportation.
“I have been clear,” Harris said on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon, noting the looming deadline to fund the government. “Any bill that funds the government must also include a fix for” the young immigrants.
Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have also warned they would oppose spending legislation unless some concessions are made to protect these so-called Dreamers.
Unsurprisingly, red-state Democrats are somewhat less enthusiastic about preserving DACA.
But vulnerable Democrats running for reelection next year in states that President Trump won don’t want any part of that strategy. They are aiming to show swing voters who backed Trump that they’re willing to work with Republicans when it makes sense.
“I think it’s stupid talk. You don’t want to shut the government down. That’s not where I’m going to be,” said Sen. Jon Tester. Tester said he wants the Dreamers taken care of, but “you don’t shut the government down."
The Democrats’ leaders in Congress have been wary of appearing to threaten a shutdown lest it makes them look like they’re willing to fight for their principles – something the Democratic Party brain trust apparently believes could hurt Democrats’ chances in next year’s midterms.
Like the original agreement with Trump, Schumer ultimately expects Democrats to reach a deal with Republicans that will offer some border-security concessions in exchange for preserving DACA.
The party’s top leaders, Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), have assiduously avoided threats of a government shutdown, knowing it could put some of their colleagues in a tough spot. Schumer downplayed the prospect of Democrats blocking a spending measure to force Republicans to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that President Obama created in 2012 to halt deportations for certain young immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.
“We don’t think we’re going to get to that. There are good negotiations occurring between Democrats and Republicans to come up with a good DACA program, as well as some good border security,” he said Tuesday after a meeting of the Democratic caucus.
According to Bloomberg, conservatives angling for a funding extension until Dec. 30 argue that would give them more leverage over spending demands from Democrats as well as the promises of potentially costly legislation made in the Senate. They also want to use the time to secure more money for the Pentagon.
“You’ve got the major part of our conference making sure our war fighters are taken care of,” said Mark Walker, a North Carolina Republican who chairs the 170-member Republican Study Committee. “But right behind that number you’ve got the fiscal hawks who want to control mandatory spending."
Stocks and yields were slightly lower Wednesday, while the yield on the short-term T-bill that comes due next week trimmed some of its rise but remained just below its highs from earlier in the week.
Still, several lawmakers are insisting that they won’t let the government shutdown. Is that because they fear Trump is right and that a shutdown could endanger Democrats, especially Democrats from red states, during next year’s election?
We’ll need to wait and see.