House funding bill raises the stakes on a shutdown

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A Republican plan to keep the government open through Jan. 19 may be dead on arrival in the Senate.

The continuing resolution, introduced by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R.-N.J.), waives cuts to defense funding scheduled to occur in January under the Budget Control Act and delays but does not waive similar sequestration cuts to civilian-side spending. The bill also extends funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program, which expired Sept. 30.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) sent a letter signed by himself and 43 fellow Democrats to the Senate majority leader on Dec. 12 announcing opposition to any continuing resolution that funds defense at levels called for in the 2018 defense bill while keeping civilian spending flat.

In a Dec. 14 press conference, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the bill was a non-starter with her party.

"What they're doing right now won't fly," she said. Even a continuing resolution that strips out provision waiving defense budget caps would not be viewed favorably by Democrats, she said. "It's what's not in it" that's as important as what is in it.

Pelosi and Senate Democrats are looking to use their leverage over budget talks to get continued legal status for immigrants who were recognized under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy under the Obama administration. They're also seeking a full extension of the CHIP program, funding for President Donald Trump's proposed opioid epidemic plan and parity for civilian-side spending when it comes to budget caps.

Noted budget watcher Stan Collender told FCW that the situation was complicated by the Republican-backed tax bill, slated for a vote before the Dec. 22 expiration of funding.

"There are a lot of moving pieces. If the tax bill isn't signed by Dec. 22nd, it's not clear that the president would sign another continuing resolution," Collender said. "It's the political equivalent of holding your breath until you turn blue."

The Democratic victory in the Alabama special election could come into play under this scenario. If there's no tax bill and no continuing resolution and a shutdown on Dec. 22, then it becomes more likely that Senator-elect Doug Jones is seated before the next round of voting, further enhancing the leverage of individual Republicans to gain concessions on the tax bill.

"It's crazy and not likely," Collender said, "but given how much that we called crazy and unlikely has happened, it can't be dismissed out of hand."

There's also the possibility that the House passes a bill that it knows won't pass the Senate and goes home for the year, leaving Senate Democrats to kill the bill, triggering the Dec. 22 partial shutdown.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) discounted this possibility in remarks to the Washington Post. "I don't know what the Senate will do. But I know what they will not do -- they will not take the House bill as presently presented." He expects the Senate to pass a continuing resolution that can attract some Democratic votes.

Collender isn't as confident that Republicans can agree on a bill that can pass the Senate.

If enough Republicans insist on full-year funding for defense or won't budge on DACA, "the possibility of a shutdown is very likely, tax bill or not," Collender said. "There's no one Republican Party on Capitol Hill --  there's six. There's seven if you include Donald Trump. This is hand-to-hand-warfare on the Republican side before you even get to the Democrats."

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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