POLITICS
09/22/2016 03:03 pm ET Updated Dec 19, 2016

Government Shutdown Suddenly Looming As Lawmakers Have Trouble Making A Deal

Republicans and Democrats are getting close to a shutdown as negotiations over a bill to keep the government funded take a step backward.
Tom Williams via Getty Images

WASHINGTON ― The prospects of a government shutdown suddenly loomed larger Thursday as Republicans in the Senate offered a funding bill that Democrats summarily rejected.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) offered the measure in a way that cannot be amended, and Democrats objected, saying the bill was written without their input, includes poison pill riders and fails to do anything to help long-suffering residents of Flint, Michigan.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters Thursday morning that the Republican offer is so bad that she doesn’t think Senate Democrats should offer a counter-proposal.

The top Democratic appropriator in the Senate, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (Md.), agreed.

“The majority leader has filed a Republican-only bill,” Mikulski said. “We Democrats cannot vote for that.”

She said the bill includes a provision that will continue to prevent the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring corporate campaign disclosure, among other riders. She also said that while the bill aids recent flood victims, it still ignores Flint.

The government is eight days away from a shutdown ― 47 days from a presidential election ― and yet lawmakers are suddenly mired in a government funding fight that no one really expected.

Most lawmakers thought they wouldn’t even be in session the last week of September, with leaders telling their members they wanted to settle the so-called continuing resolution early and get everyone back to the campaign trail.

But with negotiations stuck in the Senate, lawmakers will almost certainly be here as Republican and Democratic leadership in both chambers work out the details of a bill to keep the government funded.

The problem isn’t really whether the government should be funded, or whether the CR that goes into December should be “clean” ― that is, without additional riders and money for new programs and policies. No one in Congress seems to want a shutdown, and everyone seems to want something in the CR.

Republicans and Democrats are going back and forth over provisions to fund the fight against the Zika virus, emergency funding over the Louisiana flooding and the Flint water crisis, Internet domain names, and the Export-Import Bank, among some other smaller items.

Pelosi came before the press Thursday clearly agitated with the latest proposal from Republicans, noting that the GOP was taking a hardline against money for contraception and requiring offsets for fetal tissue research. 

“It’s absolutely appalling,” Pelosi said. “Zika would be very well served by this research.”

Pelosi explained that Republicans were requiring Democrats to offset that type of biomedical research if it is to be included in the CR. “Lamb-eat-lamb,” in Pelosi’s words.

“But we have plenty of money for tax cuts because we’re not paying for them,” Pelosi said, referring to the House GOP’s Better Way tax plan, which is projected to cost $3 trillion and overwhelmingly go to the richest 1 percent. “They’re free to our friends. But Zika you have to pay for. It’s really totally appalling.”

Aides have suggested that Zika is pretty much settled, however. The CR will provide additional money to combat the virus, but the funds will be partially offset with cuts elsewhere. Democrats wanted Zika to be an emergency appropriation ― meaning not offset ― but in return for paying for some of the money, it looks like public health centers could get some funding, which may include money for condoms.

Democrats have noted that Zika can be sexually transmitted, and condoms could help prevent the spread of the disease. But Republicans have insisted that no money go to contraception or Planned Parenthood.

“There was never an earmark for Planned Parenthood. There’s not going to be an earmark for Planned Parenthood,” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Wednesday, not necessarily ruling out an appropriation for public health centers.

Ryan also said Wednesday that negotiators were close to a deal, and that he expected lawmakers to complete the bill by the end of the week.

On Thursday, however, that timeline seemed to have drifted out a Capitol window. 

“I think our members realize that we want to get our work done,” Ryan said. “We don’t want to have high-drama around here this time, and I think all of our members understand that.”

But gone was the timeline that could have kept lawmakers in the Capitol on Saturday finishing their work.

Ryan said he saw the Louisiana flooding issue as an emergency situation, meaning the funding wouldn’t have to be offset, but he didn’t see that same designation for Flint, which he said was “more of a local government issue.”

Ryan added that the House was expected to bring forward a water bill next week. “That’s where that belongs,” he said.

Democrats, meanwhile, see money for Flint and for Louisiana as linked.

Democrats also seem to see the Internet domain name issue and the Export-Import Bank as tied together. Republicans want language in the CR that would prevent the president from giving an international consortium the power to assign website domain names.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has particularly been emphatic about the language, even praising his political rival Donald Trump over his support for keeping Internet domain naming away from an international agency, and refusing to answer earlier this week whether he would filibuster a CR that did not include that Internet language. (Cruz stood in an elevator silently and gave a small smirk when a reporter asked about it on Monday.)

A Democratic aide told Morning Consult that they could give Cruz and other Republicans the Internet domain name language if that meant lowering the quorum on the Export-Import Bank. It currently takes a quorum of three Ex-Im Board members to make loans above $10 million, but three of the five seats on the Ex-Im Board are vacant, and Banking Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) has said he will oppose any new board member in an attempt to strangle the export credit agency.

Democrats are looking to lower the quorum threshold and therefore allow the Ex-Im Bank to once again make loans above $10 million.

While negotiators have to settle those policy issues, another big question remaining in the CR is what the vote will look like. Democrats are needed to pass the CR ― not to mention President Barack Obama’s signature if it is to be enacted ― so they have some leverage in this fight, particularly because most lawmakers believe it would be Republicans taking the blame for a shutdown. But Republicans are taking hard stances on a number of issues.

Ryan clearly wants a healthy bloc of Republicans to support the bill, but asked if he would find himself in the same sort of “bad pickle” that former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) often found himself in if a majority of Republicans opposed the bill, Ryan shrugged off those concerns.

He said his relationship with conservatives was fine, and he argued that he’s just as frustrated as they are with the breakdown of the appropriations process. (A CR wouldn’t be necessary if Congress could pass regular appropriations bills, as Ryan and McConnell said they wanted to do at the beginning of this year.)

Ryan blamed the appropriations inaction on Democrats slowing the appropriations process with debate over politically toxic riders on the Confederate Flag, even though Republicans in both chambers got a late start on appropriations because they couldn’t agree on a budget.

Still, Ryan seems unworried by chatter of House conservatives potentially voting against him during his speaker re-election in January, and he seems unworried by the latest setbacks in CR negotiations. There’s a good chance Republican and Democratic appropriators will use the weekend to work out some of the negotiations and emerge early next week with a deal.

McConnell scheduled a vote for Monday.

Ryan cited lawmakers wanting “a smooth functioning process” with the CR, and said Republicans were going to a “no-drama moment here.”

He thought about that statement for a moment and corrected himself. “I should say ‘low-drama,’” Ryan said.

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