A quick glance at the calendar says today is Wednesday, December 6, and we are headed for a government shutdown at midnight on Friday, December 8 — yet there doesn’t seem to be any sense of urgency to keep the government open from Tea-Publicans in Washington, D.C.
A new Politico/Morning Consult poll finds 63 percent of voters want Congress to take any necessary measures to avoid a shutdown. Majority in new poll wants shutdown avoided at all costs.
Too bad, America. Our Twitter-troll-in-chief last week, once again, suggested that he wants to shut down the government, the only American president who has ever openly advocated for a government shutdown because to do so is a failure to execute the duties of the office of the presidency. Trump tells confidants that a government shutdown might be good for him:
President Trump has told confidants that a government shutdown could be good for him politically and is focusing on his hard-line immigration stance as a way to win back supporters unhappy with his outreach to Democrats this fall, according to people who have spoken with him recently.
Over the past 10 days, the president has also told advisers that it is important that he is seen as tough on immigration and getting money for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to two people who have spoken with him. He has asked friends about how a shutdown would affect him politically and has told several people he would put the blame on Democrats.
But of course he would. Donald Trump blames everyone else for his failures. The man has never accepted responsibility for anything he has done in his entire life.
The GOP congressional leadership is currently trying to negotiate a two week stop-gap continuing resolution (CR) to avoid a government shutdown at midnight on Friday. But they can’t seem to come to an agreement amongst themselves because of a revolt from the radical House GOP Freedom Caucus. House conservatives returned to their old ways this week: Playing havoc with spending legislation:
[The calm] came to an abrupt end Monday night, when members of the Freedom Caucus tried to grind progress on tax legislation to a halt.
These hard-right conservatives had no quarrel with the tax plan — they almost all voted for it — but they were looking for a hostage to grab and knew that this one would get everyone’s attention.
Their real target is the 2018 spending bill for federal agencies, along with a clutch of other must-pass items that conservatives oppose.
Members of the Freedom Caucus have been down this road before. They believe year-end packages turn into massive Christmas trees littered with colorful add-ons. This week’s rebellion was meant to remind House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s leadership team how little faith the conservative wing has in it to negotiate a good deal.
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First they tried to take down a procedural vote to move the tax bill into final negotiations with the Senate. Then they threatened to block a stopgap funding bill that, if not approved by Friday, would lead to a partial government shutdown.
The conservative flank is even threatening to force Congress into session immediately after Christmas to handle the spending provision in the week leading to New Year’s Day.
These lawmakers want to separate the timing between the final version of the tax bill and spending legislation. The first spending vote, on a two-week extension of funding, is supposed to come this week — buying time for larger negotiations on a two-year budget outline that would devote more money to defense and domestic agencies.
The most conservative House Republicans have traditionally opposed government funding bills, especially those coming at the end of the year.
The Ryan plan would involve passing a two-week extension of current funding to extend the deadline to Dec. 22, using the weekend before Christmas to force lawmakers to cut deals so they can go home for the holidays.
But House Democrats are balking at supporting even that “continuing resolution,” or “CR,” as the legislation is known, because they want to pass a bipartisan bill to protect from deportation up to 1 million undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
Without Democratic votes, Ryan will need to produce a majority entirely from his 240-member caucus, meaning he can afford to lose just 23 votes and still approve the stopgap bill.
Enter the Freedom Caucus, with its roughly three-dozen members. Freedom Caucus members know they can hold that bill hostage as they try to impose their will in the bigger negotiations over a two-year spending outline. They fear that if the final tax vote occurs within days of the budget framework, that spending bill could get loaded up with Christmas gifts for lawmakers to lock down their votes on the tax bill.
“If they come at the same time, who knows what else gets added to what I expect is going to be an already bad spending bill? That’s our concern,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a senior Freedom Caucus member.
Leaving a morning huddle, a vast majority of House Republicans were convinced that wrapping up all their business before Christmas was the more prudent course — that returning the week before New Year’s was pointless.
By midday, however, talks were drifting, and no one was sure what the plan was. That’s because the Freedom Caucus was back to its old ways.
Tara Golshan at Vox.com picks up where things stand at the moment. The 2017 government shutdown fight, explained:
Congress has until midnight on Friday to pass a spending bill or the federal government will run out of money and shut down.
Last week, top Democrats pulled out of a meeting with President Donald Trump on government spending after the president tweeted that he didn’t “see a deal” happening with Minority Leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). “Problem is they want illegal immigrants flooding into our Country unchecked, are weak on Crime and want to substantially RAISE Taxes,” Trump tweeted.
The meeting is now back on, scheduled for Thursday — the day before the shutdown deadline.
Republicans in the House have already proposed passing a two-week stop-gap government funding measure — a continuing resolution — keeping spending levels at status quo until December 22 to buy Congress more time to hash out a deal.
If there’s enough Republican consensus, the House can pass it without Democratic votes. The tricky thing is that Republicans need at least eight Democrats in the Senate to meet the 60-vote threshold needed to pass a spending bill, which means they will need to make some serious compromises to get a bill through. Just days before the deadline, Republican senators still don’t seem to have a clue what the strategy is going forward.
But Democrats have a lot of priorities they’d like addressed, from a legislative fix for undocumented immigrants protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to funding for the federal children’s insurance program (CHIP). Meanwhile Republicans and Democrats still haven’t even agreed on top-line spending levels for military and nondefense spending.
None of these policy areas are easy bipartisan negotiations. We can expect Democrats to tie them to the must-pass government spending bill — and use the threat of a government shutdown to try to get their way.
As with all spending negotiations, this will be a game of chicken between Democrats and Republicans. If Democrats can hold together in withholding votes, Republicans will be forced to cave — or risk presiding over a government shutdown.
There is a lot of pressure for Democrats to get something on immigration
Ever since Trump said he would put an end to DACA protections, Democrats had said that, first and foremost, they want “clean” passage of the DREAM Act. Short of that, they say they would agree to some additional border security enforcement — but nothing close to what Trump’s White House has proposed.
“There’s a lot of must-pass pieces of legislation that require Democratic support to get them over the finish line, and Democrats have made it clear that if the DREAM Act is not addressed … they’re not going to have any Democrats to get them over the finish line,” Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM), chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told reporters.
In other words, government spending, like the two-week continuing resolution, or otherwise, give Democrats an opportunity to exercise their leverage.
As Dara Lind explained for Vox, Democrats take the demands of their immigrant base very seriously these days, which means the amount of wiggle room they have is small. Already, senators like Kamala Harris (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have publicly vowed to oppose any government funding bill unless Congress takes action to protect DREAMers. However, red-state Democrats in the senate will be under more pressure to prevent a government shutdown.
Even if Democrats get in line, there still isn’t consensus among Republicans around a deal for DREAMers. There are senators like Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who have supported the Democratic-backed DREAM Act, and who recently received vague assurances from top Republican leaders to have a seat at the negotiating table in exchange for a vote on the tax bill.
Others like Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC), James Lankford (R-OK), and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) have proposed a more conservative SUCCEED Act, which would create a 15-year path to citizenship for DACA recipients, would have a “merit-based” residency program for children who arrived in the United States before the age of 16, and wouldn’t allow recipients to sponsor family members to the United States on a green card — a direct nod to Trump’s recent calls against “chain migration.”
Meanwhile Trump has been very mercurial on the issue. He has expressed sympathy for the DACA recipients but also touted his tough-on-immigration platform, calling down any proposal that offers a path to citizenship.
If Democrats stand firm, the president might be forced to make major concessions on that front.
Democrats have a long list of priorities
Democrats have already secured some wins through the budget process. Earlier this year, top Republicans and Democrats came to an agreement on a spending bill for 2017 that nearly half the GOP conference hated. It didn’t fund Trump’s border wall and it kept out provisions that would defund Planned Parenthood in exchange for an increase to defense funding and some border security money.
This time, however, Democrats are racking up an even longer list of priorities.
“These are all crises being created by congressional Republicans or the president,” one senior Democratic leadership aide said:
1) Trump said he would stop paying Obamacare subsidies — which will make premiums go up for middle- and higher-income people
Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced a bipartisan health care deal last week in an effort to stabilize the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges. It would fund key insurance subsidies while giving states more flexibility on Obamacare’s regulations.
The bill has overwhelming bipartisan support. House Speaker Paul Ryan has already poured cold water on the whole exercise, but it’s getting more and more likely the proposal will see the light of day after Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said she would vote for the tax bill, which repeals Obamacare’s individual mandate, if Republicans pass the Obamacare stabilization package.
It’s highly possible Democrats will also use the spending deadline as an opportunity to force Republicans to vote on the Alexander-Murray bill.
UPDATE: Or not. Axios.com reports, Everyone’s falling out of love with the bipartisan ACA bill: Just a few weeks ago, the Affordable Care Act stabilization bill from Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray looked like a common-sense fix with a decent shot at finding its way into Congress’ big end-of-the-year package. But that was before Republicans were on the cusp of repealing the individual mandate. Now the bill’s constituency is eroding — on every front . . . The bottom line: Everyone agrees that repealing the individual mandate will lead to higher premiums and probably less competition among insurers. No one is quite sure how bad those effects will be, which makes it hard to say for sure how much Alexander-Murray would help or hurt. But given the choice, experts say they’d rather try to figure out a post-mandate world without Alexander-Murray than with it.
2) CHIP still hasn’t been renewed — and Democrats may want to use this deadline to renew that program too
This program has widespread bipartisan support, and the Senate is considering a bipartisan deal to extend the program for five years. But the tax bill effort has put children’s insurance on hold. Currently the proposal passed by the House makes attempts to offset CHIP’s cost by taking money from Medicare and the Affordable Care Act to pay for it, which Democrats have pushed back against.
CHIP is typically an easy lift, and Hatch, who oversees the senate committee with power over the program keeps saying it will get done. “We’re going to do CHIP — there’s no question about it in my mind,” Hatch said. “But we’ve got to do it the right way. But the reason CHIP’s having trouble is because we don’t have any money anymore.”
Democrats will likely use the spending bills as the path forward to actually get funding on the books.
3) Relief funding, the border wall, Planned Parenthood, and everything else
On top of DACA, CHIP, and Obamacare funding, Democrats will still have to put up a fight against a whole host of other “nonstarters” that Republicans have been known to propose. For example, Democrats have made it clear that they will not allow funding for the Southern border wall that Trump has insisted on since taking office. Every effort to defund Planned Parenthood has also been met with organized Democratic opposition.
And with the natural disasters in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, and California, there is already talk of increased relief funding, which fiscally conservative Republicans have grown increasingly reluctant to sign on to.
Any one of these issues would be a major agenda item in any congressional term — and leaving them all to the end of the year only raises the stakes for the spending fight.
“We did this in April, and started out with 160 poison pills, the wall, and we sat down and got rid of all the poison pills and [the] wall,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said. “We did it before, and we’ll do it again.”
Trump has made spending negotiations way more complicated
Trump and congressional Republicans are on their way to passing tax reform — what would be their sole major legislative victory since controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House. It certainly won’t be a good look for them if they are unable to keep the government open.
But as with all bills, the final say on the budget is Trump’s. He has to decide whether he will sign anything short of his campaign demands. And it seems he has been less concerned with the prospect of a government shutdown than Republicans leaders are.
Rather, he has raised the stakes of shutdown by throwing so many policy deadlines to Congress on immigration and health care.
In May, Trump was reportedly talked out of vetoing the 2017 spending bill over a lack of wall funding. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess whether the president would sign on to a deal that still doesn’t fund the wall but does fund Obamacare subsidies and offers a path to citizenship for DACA recipients — or any one of those.
What we do know is that the political calculus of a government shutdown has shifted over time from complete disaster to possible political strategy — and while Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress have been rightfully wary of letting it get to this point, Trump and his conservative allies seem willing to go that far.
Let’s be clear on this point: The GOP controls the presidency, the Senate, and a large majority in the House. If they cannot agree amongst themselves on how to keep the government open with a CR or a spending bill, they are to blame. The GOP owns it.