Congress stumbles toward second shutdown

Congress stumbles toward second shutdown

Washington readied itself for another government shutdown at midnight, as a budget deal stalled on Capitol Hill amid resistance from a cantankerous GOP senator and unhappy House Democrats.

The White House has urged federal agencies on Thursday evening to prepare for a lapse in appropriations, according to an Office of Management and Budget official.

But if a shutdown does happen, it would be over “within a few hours,” said a senior Trump administration official. The official expressed confidence that the House would pass the bill once it ultimately comes over from the Senate.

The House and Senate were expected to vote earlier Thursday on the bipartisan budget package, which would jack up federal spending by about $300 billion over two years. The agreement also calls for raising the debt ceiling until March 2019, as well as nearly $90 billion in disaster aid.

But Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is blocking consideration of the measure until he gets a vote on an amendment to keep Congress under strict budget caps, as well as stripping the debt limit from the package. Senate GOP leaders had believed they could work out an agreement with Paul, but the libertarian-leaning Kentucky Republican has not relented yet.

That could lead to a shutdown on Friday unless some action is taken to head it off. GOP leaders have already begun discussing a one- or two-day continuing resolution to avoid a shutdown, said Republican aides. Such a proposal could quickly pass both chambers if no lawmakers objected. Paul, however, may object.

“There’s only so much I can do. This is a silly thing about it. I can keep them here until 3 a.m. I will make them listen to me and they will have to have me to listen to me,” Paul said on Fox News. “It is too important for the country not to have a debate.”

Paul added: “I’m not advocating for shutting down the government. I’m also not advocating for keeping the damn thing open and borrowing a million dollars a minute. This is reckless spending that is out of control.”

With a shutdown only hours away, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tried to set up a vote on the budget deal beginning at 6 p.m. But Paul objected.

McConnell pleaded with senators to accept a procedural vote and allow the Senate to move a deal that President Donald Trump backs.

“The president of the United States supports the bill and is waiting to sign it into law. I understand my friend and colleague from Kentucky does not join the president in supporting the bill,” McConnell said. “It’s his right, of course, to vote against the bill. But I would argue that it’s time to vote.”

But Paul told POLITICO on Thursday evening that he will not consent to congressional leaders’ plan without a vote on his amendment.

Asked if he’s worried about singlehandedly inheriting the blame for a shutdown, Paul replied: “No. I think it’s an important enough thing that we should have a discussion over.”

The Kentucky Republican’s move could lead to a shutdown starting at midnight. Unless he agrees to back off, the Senate couldn’t vote before 1 a.m. Even then, the House will need several hours to complete its work.

And passage in the House isn’t a sure bet either.

Opposition from GOP conservatives is forcing Republican leaders to lean on Democrats for votes even as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) digs in with immigration demands.

“Part of it depends on the Democrats,” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Thursday morning on conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s show. “This is a bipartisan bill. It’s going to need bipartisan support.”

Right now it’s unclear how many Democrats will support the bill and the debate is sharply dividing the caucus.

During a two-hour Democratic Caucus meeting on Thursday, Pelosi and party leaders made the case for why members should vote no but weren’t twisting arms.

“We have a moment. They don’t have the votes,” Pelosi declared inside the meeting according to two sources. Pelosi said Democrats needed to use their leverage on the budget deal to extract concessions from Ryan on resolving the standoff over Dreamers.

A number of Democrats estimated that between 40 to 60 of their colleagues would support the budget agreement, although Republicans still believe more Democrats will vote for it in the end rather than allow a shutdown to happen.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (Ariz.) warned his Democratic colleagues that donors would not support them if they don’t stand up and fight.

“Right now, I would say that I don’t believe that the Republicans are going to get enough votes from the Democrats to pass this, Gallego said. They’re going to have to rely very heavily on enough of their votes.”

But Rep. John Yarmuth (Ky.), top Democrat on the Budget Committee, said he would back the budget accord. Yarmuth said he believed Ryan wants a deal on the Dreamers. He also worried Democrats would get blamed for a shutdown.

“That’s my concern,” Yarmuth said. “If Republicans had 70 votes and needed 140 from us, then there’s no pressure on us. If they have 170 and we can’t put up 40 to support a bipartisan bill coming from the Senate, then we get blamed for a shutdown.”

“I’m pleased with the product, I’m not pleased with the process,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday. “I’m just telling people why I’m voting the way I’m voting.”

After teasing details of the deal earlier in the day, congressional leaders unveiled the more than 650-page bill just before midnight Wednesday, proposing expansive policy changes and funding bumps for specific programs in every corner of the federal government.

The legislation also would keep the federal government operating through March 23, giving lawmakers time to write an omnibus spending package to fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year. Congress has until Thursday at midnight to avert a shutdown.

Top House Republicans believe they will get a “majority of the majority” to support the measure, although the House Freedom Caucus and other deficit hawks are against the proposal. Republicans are hoping for 70-plus Democratic votes. There are 238 House Republicans.

“This is not the kind of deal you celebrate,” said House Budget Chairman Steve Womack (R-Ark.), who explained Wednesday that he had concerns he would be voicing to leadership before divulging whether he will vote for the bill.

Ryan is playing up the big boost in defense spending in order to placate Republicans, while also trying to reassure Pelosi and wavering Democrats that he is resolved to coming up with a solution for Dreamers.

“I know that there is a real commitment to solving the the DACA challenge in both political parties. That’s a commitment that I share,” Ryan told reporters on Thursday, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. “If anyone doubts my intention to solve this problems and bring up a DACA and immigration reform bill, do not. We will bring a solution to the floor, one the president will sign.”

President Donald Trump canceled the program last year and called on Congress to come up with a legislative fix he can support. Despite months of bipartisan talks, congressional leaders have failed to do so, leading to last month’s government shutdown and questions over whether Congress can pass a budget caps deal.

Ryan had hoped his latest statement — a different version of what he has already promised — will give enough Democrats cover to vote for the budget deal. But it wasn’t enough to assuage Pelosi.

While a legal fight is being waged in federal court over the Dreamers’ fate, Pelosi has been seeking Ryan’s assurance that the House will vote to protect the 700,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.

Despite Pelosi’s position, and the threat of losing on the budget agreement vote, Ryan has refused to commit to anything more than the House would consider a bill that Trump can endorse. Yet without those assurances, there may not be enough House support to pass the budget deal.

A trio of House Democrats — Reps. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) — are whipping their colleagues to oppose the budget deal, according to multiple sources.

The budget deal is also threatening to divide the minority groups — the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus — which have banded together during the immigration debate over the past several months. The three groups along with the Congressional Progressive Caucus were supposed to put out a statement Wednesday opposing the budget deal. But deep divisions within the CBC and CHC have delayed the unified show of opposition, and it’s unclear if the statement will come out at this point.

A group of about 10 members of the CBC, including its chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.), were seen in an intense debate about the bill on the first floor of the Capitol late Thursday morning. And members of the CHC were debating whether they could and should support the plan during their weekly lunch huddle later that day.

For a number of House Democrats, the budget caps deals means billions of dollars more in domestic spending, funds they desperately want. So they will back the agreement despite their concerns over the Dreamers.

“I cannot in good conscience go home and say to my [hospitals that serve low-income patients] that I didn’t vote for this because of DACA,” said Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), a member of the CBC.

“Or I can’t go home and say to health centers that have already been handing out pink slips, ‘I didn’t vote for this and they gave me money for a permanent fix for your problem.’ I can’t go home and say to union people, ‘Look, they’re going to try to take care of your pension problem, but I didn’t vote for it.'”

In contrast to Pelosi and Ryan’s battle, McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have repeatedly praised the deal — and each other — as a compromise that contains billions of dollars that dozens of senators from each party can support.

The massive package includes $89 billion in disaster aid, surpassing the $81 billion allocation the House approved in December for regions hit by wildfires and last year’s trio of catastrophic hurricanes.

As the Treasury Department reaches the upper limits of its borrowing authority this month, the measure would lift the debt ceiling until March 2019, giving lawmakers more than a year without the worry of default.

Burgess Everett, Matthew Nussbaum and Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.

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