Impeachment looms over shutdown talks

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In comments to reporters last Friday, House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) expressed hope that after a weekend of work, members would be ready to unveil a schedule for voting on packages of funding bills in time to avoid a Dec. 21 government shutdown.

House and Senate appropriators have agreed on funding levels across the 12 bills, but an overall agreement has so far failed to materialize. A House aide told FCW on Dec. 9 that "staff-level talks are continuing on appropriations bills and steady progress has been made."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told CNN last week that lawmakers are "on a good path" to avoid a shutdown, but added that a third continuing resolution might be needed to keep the government open through the Christmas holiday.

Her Senate counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), took note of the movement last month to agree to subcommittee allocation across both chambers and hoped that the glimmer of bipartisan cooperation was the sign of more progress to come.

"I am grateful to colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their hard work," McConnell said. "I hope this progress continues and we can consider appropriations measures this month."

That could mean floor votes for some appropriations packages, while punting more-controversial measures for a later date – meaning some of the government, likely including the Department of Homeland Security, would be run on the basis of a continuing resolution.

One big problem for a funding agreement: Democrats in the House and in Senate are unified in their opposition to a border wall – a Trump administration priority. The wall funding issue doesn't only affect the DHS budget, thanks to emergency spending measures that drew some border wall funds from defense and military construction appropriations. Democrats are opposed to backfilling those wall funds in 2020 appropriations.

Disagreement over wall funding was the key driver of the record 35-day partial government shutdown that stretched from late 2018 into February 2019.

"Funding for a border wall was a non-starter for Democrats then, and it remains a non-starter for Democrats now," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor on Dec. 4. "We had hoped the president had learned his lesson, but it appears that exactly a year after losing this same battle, the president is considering a repeat of history and another Trump shutdown.

Because of these deep-seated policy difference, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, has been more pessimistic about reaching an agreement on funding. The process to arrive at funding levels for the 12 appropriations bills was slow going for months. With the impeachment inquiry now in full swing in the House, Shelby has suggested that a new temporary funding bill might be needed well into 2020.

"I think people are already thinking about another [continuing resolution] now," Shelby said Dec. 4.

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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