Brinksmanship in Congress with only one day to a government shutdown

So the GOP’s alleged boy genius and Ayn Rand fanboy, Paul Ryan, “the zombie-eyed granny starver from the state of Wisconsin,” went ahead with his kabuki theater plan to pass his fifth temporary spending bill (CR) that everyone knows was DOA in the Senate. He no doubt wants credit for his farce. House passes stopgap spending measure with defense money:

House Republicans passed a spending package on Tuesday night that pairs a full year of defense funding with a temporary patch for the rest of the government, even as Senate leaders pursue a different plan to avoid a shutdown when funding runs dry on Thursday.

The continuing resolution (CR), which passed the House 245-182, would fund the Defense Department for the rest of fiscal 2018 and keep the rest of the government’s lights on until March 23. It also includes two years of funding for community health centers and extends several expiring health care programs.

But the defense-CR package is unlikely to fly in the Senate, meaning senators will need to rewrite the stopgap measure and “ping-pong” it back to the House.

Spending bills are supposed to originate in the House, but since that clown show is held hostage by the House GOP Freedom Caucus who are not serious about governing responsibly, the serious work of keeping the government functioning is being done in the Senate. Senate leaders see two-year budget deal within their grasp:

Top Senate leaders were working Tuesday to finalize a sweeping long-term budget deal that would include a defense spending boost President Trump has long demanded alongside an increase in domestic programs championed by Democrats.

As negotiations for the long-term deal continued, the House passed a short-term measure that would fund the government past a midnight Thursday deadline and avert a second partial shutdown in less than a month.

The House bill, which passed 245 to 182, would fund most agencies through March 23 but is a nonstarter in the Senate because of Democratic opposition.

But the top Senate leaders of both parties told reporters earlier in the day that a breakthrough was at hand on a longer-term budget deal. Spending has vexed the Republican-controlled Congress for months, forcing lawmakers to rely on multiple short-term patches.

“We’re on the way to getting an agreement and on the way to getting an agreement very soon,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) echoed him, “I am very hopeful that we can come to an agreement, an agreement very soon.”

Despite the optimism, no agreement was finalized with less than three days until Thursday’s deadline. And even as congressional leaders were sounding an upbeat note, Trump was raising tensions by openly pondering a shutdown if Democrats did not agree to his immigration policies.

“I’d love to see a shutdown if we don’t get this stuff taken care of,” Trump said at a White House event focused on crime threats posed by some immigrants. “If we have to shut it down because the Democrats don’t want safety . . . let’s shut it down.”

Trump’s remarks appeared unlikely to snuff out the negotiations, which mainly involved top congressional leaders and their aides — not the president or his White House deputies — and have largely steered clear of the explosive immigration issue.

Ignore that man behind the curtain!

The agreement McConnell and Schumer are contemplating, with input from House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), would clear the way for a bipartisan accord that would break through the sharp divides that helped prompt a three-day government shutdown last month.

Under tentative numbers discussed by congressional aides who were not authorized to speak publicly about the negotiations, defense spending would get an $80 billion boost above the existing $549 billion in spending for 2018. Nondefense spending would rise by $63 billion from its current $516 billion. The 2019 budget would include similar increases.

“Democrats have made our position in these negotiations very clear,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “We support an increase in funding for our military and our middle class. The two are not mutually exclusive. We don’t want to do just one and leave the other behind.”

Among the other issues that could be addressed in the deal is an increase in the federal debt limit, which could be reached as soon as early March, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The aides said that an increase was being discussed in the negotiations but that no final decisions have been made.

“It’s a question of what the traffic will bear,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 3 Senate GOP leader, describing the likelihood of a debt-ceiling increase.

A disaster aid package aimed at the victims of recent hurricanes and wildfires is also part of the talks, potentially adding $80 billion or more to the deal’s overall price tag. That provision could help win support from lawmakers representing affected areas in California, Florida and Texas but further repel conservatives concerned about mounting federal spending.

OK, so party leadership may have a bipartisan spending deal for two years, but what about those anti-government radicals in the House GOP Freedom Caucus? Roll Call reports, House Leaders Face Threats of Intraparty Rebellion on Budget Deal:

The House Republicans’ day of reckoning is almost here.

As early as Wednesday, the four corners of congressional leadership are expected to announce a sweeping budget deal that could increase the sequestration spending caps by nearly $300 billion over two years, extend the debt ceiling without any spending changes designed to reduce the deficit, and appropriate more than $80 billion for disaster relief without pay-fors.

While those rough parameters were all but certain, according to Republican and Democratic sources, as of late Tuesday leaders had yet to sign off on the deal. The negotiations were so fluid that House Democrats decided to move their retreat, scheduled for Wednesday through Friday in Cambridge, Maryland, to the Capitol complex.

The deal will set up a battle between House conservatives and GOP leadership that has long been inevitable. There will be moaning and groaning about the bipartisan agreement and a sizable number of House Republicans — likely somewhere between one-third to one half of the 238-member GOP conference — could vote no.

This is not a new scenario. Past budget deals have been hammered out in a similar fashion. But it is the first such deal brokered with Speaker Paul D. Ryan fighting on behalf of the House Republicans in the four-corner negotiations.

Conservative revolt

While conservatives are withholding final judgement until they see what’s in the agreement, they’ve heard enough to signal it won’t be something they like — and for many, something they can’t accept.

“As a conservative, I cannot support that,” House GOP Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows told reporters Tuesday afternoon, citing what he had heard is an “almost $300 billion plus up” on the budget caps with at least $63 billion going to nondiscretionary funding in the current and next fiscal year.

Meadows predicated that about 90 Republicans would vote against such a budget caps deal. If leaders throw in a debt ceiling extension, the defectors could reach around 100, the North Carolina Republican said.

Those defectors will almost certainly include the vast majority of the 36 hard-line conservatives in the House GOP Freedom Caucus, as well as other conservatives who are part of the larger Republican Study Committee.

“If it’s completely off the top rail then — we talked about this at [the] RSC meeting today — eventually Republicans have to draw a line in the sand because otherwise it’s disingenuous,” RSC Chairman Mark Walker said, referring to frequent GOP criticism of excessive spending in Washington.

Republican leadership aides insist the emerging deal will include some conservative wins, saying the caps deal will not provide equal increases in defense and nondefense spending and that some of the nondefense increases will be earmarked for priorities such as infrastructure and opioid abuse prevention that conservatives support.

Ryan will have some political cover in accepting a deal his members largely loathe if President Donald Trump backs it, but that may not be enough to prevent a conservative revolt once this agreement is baked into law. Still, most conservatives weren’t ready to speak about potential backlash against their leadership in their public comments Tuesday.

Speculation had already been mounting about Ryan’s future before the emerging deal, with most predicting he will not run for another term as speaker.

Democratic concerns

Ryan is not the only House leader facing threats of an intraparty rebellion surrounding the budget deal.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is facing mass pressure from her caucus to hold firm on ensuring immigration is part of any sweeping budget deal.

For months, House Democrats have withheld support for stopgap spending bills in search of a broader budget agreement on lifting the sequestration spending caps and providing a legislative replacement to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program that is scheduled to end March 5.

They even held firm against a Feb. 8 continuing resolution that reopened the government after a three-day shutdown last month. Many of their Senate counterparts relented to supporting that measure after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell committed to holding an open floor debate on immigration, starting the week of Feb. 12 so long as the government remains open.

With the Senate looking to attach a budget caps deal to the spending bill needed to keep the government open past Thursday, the leverage House Democrats have needed to secure an immigration commitment in their chamber may finally be here and they’re ready to play their Trump card.

“The budget caps are our leverage,” House Minority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Tuesday, noting Democrats want Ryan to commit to a floor debate on immigration like McConnell did.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pledging to begin a free-flowing immigration debate next week, saying any proposal that gets 60 votes could get through the upper chamber. “I’m going to structure in such a way that’s fair to everyone. … Whoever gets to 60 wins,” he said during a press conference. McConnell: ‘Whoever gets to 60 wins’ on immigration.

With conservatives already mounting objections a significant number of Democratic votes will likely be needed, providing them leverage.

“The Freedom Caucus and his own members are loath to do the defense and the domestic spending caps, so we’re expecting them to hold in that position,” Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham said.

The New Mexico Democrat said that scenario would provide House Democrats leverage to negotiate with Ryan for floor time on an immigration bill that protects so-called Dreamers — undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children who face a deportation threat with DACA ending.

“So this week there’s significant effort at getting the House leadership to commit in the same way Senate leadership has,” Lujan Grisham said.

“And there are several bipartisan, bicameral solutions,” she added, noting the hard part is figuring out how the 50 or more moderate House Republicans who have pushed their leadership to expeditiously address the DACA issue will react.

“We’re making sure that those communications are happening this week,” Lujan Grisham said.

Hoyer suggested House Democrats will want a commitment from Ryan for an immigration floor debate before agreeing to back the budget cap deal.

Specifically, the Maryland Democrat suggested a House procedure called “queen of the hill” that would allow for votes on several immigration measures. Under the process, the bill that clears the required simple majority threshold for passage with the most votes would prevail as the House-passed bill. [Similar to what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposes to do in the Senate.]

Hoyer predicted a bipartisan bill from Reps. Will Hurd, a Texas Republican, and Pete Aguilar, a California Democrat, would come out on top over any conservative measure such as one by House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia [and Martha McSally of Arizona].

Up in the air

Still, there’s no guarantee of success for the House Democrats’ ploy.

Ryan on Tuesday reiterated that he would not bring an immigration bill to the House floor unless it has Trump’s support. The president has rejected the Hurd-Aguilar bill, as well as any measure that doesn’t fully fund a Southern border wall.

The speaker also criticized Democrats for holding government funding “hostage” to the unrelated immigration issue.

Sorry, boy genius, but that would be your boy Donald Trump who bigfooted your talking point on Tuesday. He owns any government shutdown now.

With the potential of the year’s second government shutdown looming, Democrats may have the high ground as Trump on Tuesday endorsed  a shutdown if he doesn’t get his way on immigration.

“I’d love to see a shutdown if we can’t get this stuff taken care of,” he said at a White House roundtable event with law enforcement on the MS-13 gang. “If we have to shut it down because the Democrats don’t want safety … let’s shut it down.”

Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock, who was at the meeting, rebuffed the president’s suggestion, telling him, “We don’t need a government shutdown on this.”

Comstock, who is among the GOP’s most vulnerable incumbents in November, said both parties want to avert a shutdown and noted there is bipartisan support for a crackdown on violent gangs.

Trump interjected: “You can say what you want. We are not getting support of the Democrats.”

President Trump’s white nationalist agenda is the wild card in this mix. Congress possibly could pass a bipartisan spending bill and agree to debate a DACA fix next week, but if this petulant man-child does not get his way on a border wall and restricting legal immigration he could throw a temper tantrum and veto the spending bill in order to nix any debate on a DACA fix.

The supposed adult in the room who keeps Donald Trump in check (as if), Chief of Staff John Kelly, is also an anti-immigrant hardliner who can’t contain his own racism. John Kelly dismisses some DREAMers as ‘too lazy to get off their asses’:

Kelly noted there are nearly 700,000 DREAMers registered and protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. Kelly said Trump’s proposed immigration deal, which Democrats in Congress oppose, was “generous” because it extends the possibility of citizenship even to DREAMers who are not registered under DACA. He claimed that “the difference [in numbers] between 690 [thousand DACA recipients] and 1.8 million [DACA eligible immigrants] were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up … [or] were too lazy get off their asses.”

Politico also reported that Kelly thought it unlikely that Trump would extend the March 5 deadline to offer protections to DACA recipients, should Congress fail to pass immigration reform. “I’m not so sure the president … has the authority to extend it,” Kelly said, citing the Trump administration’s belief that President Obama’s DACA policy was unconstitutional. He added: “I would certainly advise against it.”

The Associated Press reports that Kelly did assure reporters that DACA recipients “[would not be] a priority for deportation” if Congress is unable to come to an agreement on immigration reform.

In brinksmanship, someone always has to blink. A government spending deal has to happen today to get it down by tomorrow night. Stay tuned.

2 Responses to Brinksmanship in Congress with only one day to a government shutdown

  1. For Sure Not Tom

  2. For Sure Not Tom

    Screw the GOP for holding DACA recipients (aka people) hostage.

    Trump and the GOP own any shutdown, and I think this video sums up the actual State of the Union.

    Try and look away, just try.