Politics

Lawmakers Hope to Avert Government Shutdown

The deadline to fund the government is April 28

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said there is “no desire” for a continuing resolution. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

After weeks of partisan fighting over health care and the Supreme Court, lawmakers have less than one month to come together and avert a government shutdown.

Government funding for the 2017 fiscal year expires on April 28, five days after lawmakers return to the nation’s capital after a two-week recess. But negotiations appear to be moving forward.

“So far things are working out pretty well,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said at his weekly press conference. “We’re working well with our Republican colleagues as we have in the past.”

Lawmakers are attempting to piece together as many of the remaining 11 spending bills as possible in a broader package known as an omnibus. The goal is to avoid passing a continuing resolution, or CR, which would continue funding at the previous year’s levels.

“There’s no desire for a CR,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters. 

House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen said a legislative package to wrap up the fiscal 2017 spending bills should be announced soon.

“No one wants a government shutdown. We’re dead set against that. We’re working to make sure that doesn’t happen,” the New Jersey Republican said.

The leaders of each appropriations subcommittee are working with their bipartisan and bicameral counterparts to piece together their own bills. Several said much of the work was already done last year.

Sen. Brian Schatz confirmed appropriators were working to complete all the remaining spending bills for a catch-all measure.

“If they insist on poison-pill riders or any of our other showstoppers, then that’s a different conversation, but certainly the work is being done so that we’ll be in a position to shock the world,” the Hawaii Democrat said.

Moving on

Some Republican lawmakers have dismissed the notion that a their recent failed attempt to undo the Affordable Care Act could spell trouble for their ability to come together on government funding negotiations.

“One of the problems with the health care bill was that it was rushed through the process,” said Sen. Susan Collins, a member of the Appropriations Committee who was critical of the GOP health care plan. 

“That’s not the case with the appropriations process,” the Maine Republican said. “It’s not as if people are unfamiliar with the issues, need to come up to speed, or don’t already have views on what direction we should go in.”

The chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, a key bloc that largely opposed the GOP health care bill, said the caucus could show “greater flexibility” than they have in past government funding negotiations.

“We understand that we have a very narrow margin of victory here, and so in getting to 218, we understand that it might require us to take some more difficult votes than perhaps we have in previous Congresses,” North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows said.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle acknowledge that Democratic support will be necessary to pass a government funding package.

That is especially true in the Senate, where 60 votes are required to end debate and Republicans only hold 52 seats. Plus, several conservative Republicans routinely vote against spending measures to protest government spending and what they say is a broken budget process.

“Remember, the governing majority in this place hasn’t changed,” said Sen. Chris Murphy. “It’s moderate Republicans and two-thirds of the Democratic caucus. And the election didn’t change the fact that the governing majority involves more Democrats than Republicans.”

“They found that out on health care, they’ll likely find that out again on tax reform and again on the budget,” the Connecticut Democrat said.

Showdowns

Democrats have warned against “poison pill” additions to the funding package that would revoke their support. 

One divisive issue facing appropriators is funding for President Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the southern border. The administration requested $1.5 billion as part of a broader emergency defense spending bill for fiscal year 2017.

“Instead of spending taxpayer dollars on a pointless wall, we should be investing in creating jobs, investing in infrastructure, not in separating American families” Schumer said at a Tuesday event with the National Council of La Raza. “Senate Democrats are prepared to fight all the way.”

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez also said at the event that Democrats “will do everything possible to make sure that U.S. taxpayer monies do not go to build that wall.”

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the top Democrat on Appropriations, said Tuesday that he would request a separate vote on the wall funding.

If funding for the wall was attached to the 2017 broader spending package that could set up a partisan standoff and potential shutdown. But one senior GOP appropriator signaled they might have a separate vote on the president’s proposal.

Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt told reporters that he thought the best scenario would be to deal with the remaining 2017 spending bills together.

“And that’s one vote,” Blunt said. “And then the supplemental is still an issue to be dealt with differently because it is a very different issue.”

Funding for Planned Parenthood is another thorny issue that has rankled past government funding negotiations. 

Asked Tuesday if Republicans would seek to defund the organization through the spending process, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said that would not be the best avenue.

“We think reconciliation’s the tool because that gets it into law,” Ryan said, referring to the budget process that only requires a majority of votes to move legislation forward in the Senate. “Reconciliation’s the way to go.”

Executive encounter?

The spending process could set up a clash with the White House. In December, Congress extended the government funding deadline through April because the Trump administration wanted input into the fiscal 2017 spending process.

The administration sent that input to the appropriators, which was publicly circulated Monday, suggesting nearly $18 billion in cuts. They proposed cuts largely to domestic programs like medical research at the National Institutes of Health, student loan assistance, and Housing and Urban Development.

“We just plussed up NIH funding the end of last year, I doubt there’d be a lot of appetite for dramatic cuts this year,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said Tuesday.

The Texas Republican indicated the administration was becoming aware of how complicated enacting a spending bill for the balance of the current fiscal year might be.

“I think they’re becoming very aware of how hard the legislative process is,” Cornyn said of the Trump White House.

Appropriators, meanwhile, have been attempting to complete work on their spending bills that was done before Trump took office. Though, as one House appropriator noted, lawmakers face a tight timeline for funding the government.

“We’re running out of time. Not a lot of attention has been focused on these bills,” said Florida GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a veteran appropriator. “The good news is those of us that have been working on them are in really good shape. But we’re going to need floor time.”

Lindsey McPherson, Niels Lesniewski, Jennifer Shutt and Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report. 

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