Government shutdown threat looms over Capitol Hill's Christmas season
December crises emerge with such regularity that the ox and lamb could almost keep time to the likelihood of Congressional combat this time of year. (AP Photo/J. David Ake, File)
You'll forgive lawmakers, Capitol Hill aides and Congressional journalists for lacking tidings of comfort and joy.
They're all too familiar with various phantasms depicting Christmas past, Christmas present and, yes, Christmas future on Capitol Hill.
Although it's been said many times, many ways, December can be pretty wretched in Congress.
Andy Williams pretty much nailed it when he sang about "scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago."
Sprints to renew tax breaks before the calendar flips to January. A Christmas Eve day vote on ObamaCare. Efforts to avert government shutdowns. Brawls over hurricane relief. A scrap over the "payroll tax" in 2011. The "fiscal cliff" of 2012 and 2013 was epic. Lawmakers fought up until Christmas, took a break and came a-wassailing back to Washington to battle through New Year's Day. Vice President Joe Biden rushed to the Capitol to negotiate on New Year’s Eve 2012 at around 8:30 pm and the Senate began voting at around 2 in the morning on Jan. 1, 2013.
December crises emerge with such regularity that the ox and lamb could almost keep time to the likelihood of Congressional combat this time of year.
If you blinked Thursday afternoon, you would have missed the House and Senate approving a stopgap spending bill to avert a partial government shutdown this weekend. The new deadline is 11:59:59 pm on Dec. 21.
This is the second interim spending bill, known as a "CR" for "Continuing Resolution," this fiscal year.
On the second day of Christmas, someone's true love bequeathed them two turtle doves. In Congress, it's unclear what you get for the second CR in a fiscal year. And if there is a government shutdown, it’s certain that the ten lords a-leaping will be among those furloughed.
Here's where we stand:
Congress and President Trump forged an agreement in September on five of the 12 annual appropriations bills. That left seven appropriations bills unfinished. The most significant was the Homeland Security Appropriations measure, which would potentially cover money for the border wall.
Democrats think President Trump's insistence on a border wall is as preposterous as Gayla Peevey demanding a hippopotamus for Christmas. Most Congressional Republicans and the President are dug in on this issue. This could be the last chance GOPers have to fund the wall, since Democrats take control of the House in January. So for now, Republicans are channeling the mantra that they "won't go until we get some."
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., says it would be "foolish to shut down the government" and "stupid not to find a solution" to this standoff. But Kennedy knows exactly where Trump stands.
"I don't think [the President's] kidding. I think he's prepared to shut the government down," opined Kennedy.
"If President Trump wants to throw a temper tantrum and shut down the government over Christmas over the wall, that's his decision," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Thursday.
Any package to fund the government requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. Republicans currently control 51 seats. That's why they need the support of at least nine Democrats. It's generally thought that Senate Democrats may be willing to cave on some funding for the wall. But it’s a different story in the House.
Few if any House Democrats would vote for any plan to fund the government if it includes wall money. That means House Republicans, in the majority for the moment, could be called upon to advance a spending bill to run the government, and presumably fund the wall, by themselves.
"We've got to secure our border,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the future chair of the House Republican Conference, the third-highest position in the House GOP hierarchy. "The fact that we have Democrats refusing to allocate resources to do that, well, the American people won't be happy."
But the problem with border wall funding may not lie with Democrats but Republicans. Multiple House GOP sources told Fox News that Republicans lack the votes to pass any spending bill on their own with or without wall funding. The math doesn't work on the GOP side of the aisle. Over the summer, the House twice rejected bills to fully fund the wall.
Here's the other problem. Fox News is told there are a number of defeated or retiring House Republicans who don't intend to come back to Washington so close to Christmas. In some ways, a vote just before the Dec. 21 deadline could actually help avert another shutdown if attendance dwindles. The outcome may hinge on who shows up.
Also, some conservatives privately concede they'd like a shutdown to hamstring Democrats as they assume control of the House in January.
"If I were the president, I would stick with it," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., about the push for wall money. "I've always thought more wall funding is necessary. And we've got to do something with the DACA recipients. Maybe if you marry those two up [Trump] could end the year on a high note."
When asked if she would accept some wall funding in exchange for a DACA deal, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., replied with an emphatic "no." Pelosi contends that the border wall and a DACA fix are "two different subjects" and advocates approving individual versions of six of the spending bills and then okaying a CR until Sept. 30, 2019 (the end of the fiscal year) for the Department of Homeland Security.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., took a dim view of Pelosi's proposal.
"I believe the best route is to keep the seven (appropriations bills) together," said Shelby.
This exercise also poses a challenge for the House Republican leadership. Some conservatives are sure to be apoplectic if the GOP brass accepts anything short of full wall funding. That grants those conservatives the chance to drive a wedge between Republicans as to who is fighting the hardest for the wall and serving as a rearguard for Trump. Some Republicans may even relish a fight with their leaders over the wall.
What's remarkable at this stage of the appropriations process is the lack of information. No one is even sure who is driving the sleigh. Is it outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.? House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., – who is about to become House Minority Leader McCarthy? Prospective House Speaker Pelosi? (Just a reminder. she doesn't quite have the required number of votes to become Speaker in January nailed down yet.) Retiring House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J.?
So prepare yourself for Christmas at the Capitol.
And if there's a government shutdown on Dec. 22, that's the nightmare before Christmas.