Congress is risking another federal government shutdown as House Republicans on Tuesday approved a temporary bill loaded with extra military spending that will almost certainly face a filibuster from Democrats — and some Republicans — in the Senate.
Neither party appears to want a repeat of last month’s three-day shutdown, but President Trump seemed game for closing the government again if he could blame it on Democrats. Funds for federal operations expire Thursday.
"I'd love to see a shutdown if we can't get this stuff taken care of,” Trump said during a White House event on gang violence that quickly turned to immigration and border security issues. “If we have to shut it down because the Democrats don't want safety … let's shut it down."
Trump’s brash comments drew instant rebuke from lawmakers, including one of the Republicans attending the roundtable event.
"We don't need a government shutdown on this," said Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), whose district in the Washington suburbs is home to many federal workers. Both parties want to resolve the issues, she added.
Trump interrupted her: "You can say what you want.”
"I would shut it down over this issue,” he said later in response to a question from a reporter.
The president’s comments were out of sync with the action on Capitol Hill. Unlike last month, when Democrats briefly blocked a federal spending bill to try to push Republicans on immigration, neither party has linked the two issues this time as lawmakers have been negotiating over possible immigration compromises.
Now lawmakers in both houses are hoping a broader, multiyear budget deal can be struck in time to prevent another stopgap measure after this one, which would expire March 23, in what would be the fifth short-term funding bill of this fiscal year.
The sticking point has been that Republicans want higher military spending and Democrats oppose that unless there is additional money for domestic accounts.
Republicans tried to win Democratic votes on the stopgap measure Tuesday by attaching a two-year extension of funding for community health clinics and other provisions, along with the full year of military funding. But Democrats mostly voted against it.
Even as House GOP leaders were able to muscle their bill to passage, 245 to 182, thanks to backing from the conservative House Freedom Caucus, the outcome in the Senate is uncertain. The narrow 51-seat Senate Republican majority must rely on Democratic support to reach the 60-vote threshold for passage.
“Unfortunately, we are back at that point that we were just a few weeks ago,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield). “Last time, we had to have a shutdown. Hopefully we will not be in that situation again.”
But some Democrats said Republicans were simply wasting time on another temporary bill that had no chance of becoming law.
”How did we get here?” said Rep. Nita M. Lowey of New York, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. “This is not a serious bill.”
Negotiators have been trying to craft a more lasting budget accord to fund the government through the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. They want to boost all spending beyond the strict caps imposed under a 2011 budget deal.
If a broader budget agreement is struck, the Senate could swap it in for the House’s stopgap measure, with a fresh round of voting before Thursday’s midnight deadline to fund the government.
But mounting deficits are beginning to worry lawmakers after passage of the massive $1.5-trillion tax cut package, especially if they pile on more than $80 billion disaster aid for states hit during the especially devastating hurricane and wildfire season. The volatile stock market has only amplified lawmakers’ concerns.
“At some point the market’s going to wake up to the fact that you’re going to start running $1-trillion deficits all over again,” said Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), the state’s former governor, who worries that the stopgap measures are viewed as “a real sign that Washington doesn’t work, that it is dysfunctional at some level.”
While budget talks continue, the immigration debate involves efforts to craft a bill to protect young immigrant “Dreamers” from deportation after Trump formally ends the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
The government shut down for three days last month as Democrats pushed the immigration issue to the forefront of the agenda. They relented after winning a promise from Senate leaders that it would be the next debate. Groups of lawmakers are meeting behind closed doors to develop legislation that would also include border security enhancements and other immigration law changes.
As senators struggle to craft a bipartisan immigration bill, some are mulling a one-year extension to DACA, which allows immigrants who came to the country illegally as minors to apply to live and work here as adults. Under Trump’s order, the program was to have expired March 5, but a court case has allowed it to keep running for now.
The White House has shown no interest in extending the program, which it argues was created unlawfully by President Obama. That leaves the matter with Congress, which could pass a law protecting Dreamers.
Some senators from both parties oppose a one-year extension.
“Why does anyone that think these issues are going to be easier a year from now?” asked Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has been convening the bipartisan Common Sense Coalition in her office.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) was among those huddled Monday evening in the Senate considering the one-year delay. “It would only be a last, final unpalatable — but unavoidable — result to stop mass draconian deportation,” he said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said extending DACA for another year or so may be the only compromise Congress can strike.
“It’s the fallback position,” Graham said. “But that’s most likely where we’re going to go.”
Lawmakers were planning on working a short week as House Democrats leave Wednesday for their annual planning retreat, but the stalemate over the spending bill may force them to remain in session.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) was not pleased.
“The reason Congress is facing a fifth stopgap budget bill is because the Republican majority is incompetent,” Pelosi said. “Republicans control the House, the Senate and the White House but they have to rely on five stopgap spending bills in a row to keep government running? Republicans must stop governing from manufactured crisis to crisis, and work with Democrats to pass the many urgent, long overdue priorities of the American people.”