Congress Is Getting Close To Shutting Down The Government

And lawmakers don't really know how exactly to stop it.

WASHINGTON ― Lawmakers appeared a little closer Wednesday to passing yet another short-term spending bill to keep the government open, but as Senate Democrats looked increasingly likely to cave, conservatives in the House looked increasingly likely to fight ― or at least get some concessions. And depending on what demands GOP leaders give in to, those changes could still throw the Senate into chaos and the government into a shutdown.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) emerged from a meeting with Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) on Wednesday night saying House Republicans don’t yet have the votes to pass another short-term spending fix, called a continuing resolution (CR).

“At this point, if the vote were to happen today, there’s not the votes to fund it with Republican-only votes,” Meadows told reporters Wednesday night.

Still, Meadows said they were making “good progress,” and he expected leadership to have some accommodation for conservatives.

The Freedom Caucus is pushing for leadership to take the monthlong CR and add military funding for the rest of the year ― or, at least, to fund some parts of the military for a longer period of time. And if leadership can’t get that, conservatives sound open to supplying some votes if leadership puts on the floor a hard-line immigration bill sponsored by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and pushes to get it passed.

“I haven’t made that formal request,” Meadows said earlier in the day of giving the immigration bill a vote, “but certainly if they were to come and say they were going to pass the Goodlatte bill and put that on the floor tomorrow, I think a whole lot of my members would be willing to vote for that. Sure.”

Meadows said later Wednesday, after his meeting with McHenry, that conservatives wanted more than just a vote on that Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration bill, which would include approval of a border wall, a change in family reunification immigration and then end of the diversity visa lottery. But he was clear earlier that a commitment from GOP leaders to pass that bill would be a “strong influencing factor” in winning over Freedom Caucus votes for the CR.

House leadership is in a bind right now because, about two days before a government shutdown, they still don’t have the votes to pass this government funding bill. (When a reporter asked Meadows how many Republicans were against the current legislation, Meadows said he didn’t know leadership’s whip count, “I just know mine.”)

With current vacancies and GOP absences, Republicans look like they can lose only 21 votes and still pass the CR if every Democrat withholds their vote until Republicans put up a passing number.

“There’s certainly more noes and undecideds than 21 right now,” Meadows told HuffPost.

McHenry spent much of Wednesday trying to find the votes by meeting with members on and off the House floor. With Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) out for surgery, McHenry has been tasked with finding the votes for a fourth continuing resolution in a fiscal year that began in October.

That perpetual game of kick-the-can has already angered many defense hawks, with Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Rob Wittman (R-Va.) voting against the CR at the end of December. Now McHenry is trying to keep the defense hawks in line yet again while also brokering a deal with conservatives that could imperil the legislation in the Senate.

Senate Democrats are already shaky about this current CR, but some have signaled they would support the measure to avoid a government shutdown. “I just don’t think there’s any way in the world that anyone should be talking about shutting down the government,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) told reporters Wednesday.

That support might waver, however, if House Republicans begin attaching longer-term military funding to the bill in an effort to break the tie between defense and non-defense caps. Former Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) suggested that, if House Republicans could send a bill with additional military funding to the Senate, it would be tough on the most vulnerable Democrats to oppose that bill, which in turn could force more Democrats to support it.

“I mean, really, does Joe Donnelly want the government to shut down because he wants amnesty for people who came to this country illegally?” Jordan said Wednesday, referring to the moderate Democratic senator from Indiana who supports deportation protections for immigrants who were brought here as children. “I don’t think so.”

There may be some truth to vulnerable Democrats feeling the pinch with a revised bill, but if House Republicans push too far, Senate Democrats won’t have too much trouble voting no and blaming it on Republicans, who control the House, Senate and White House.

At the same time, if Republicans were unable to advance any bill out of the House ― where only a simple majority is required to pass a bill ― it’d be fair to say a government shutdown is entirely the fault of Republicans.

That’s the balancing act facing GOP leaders. They want to pass the most Republican bill that Senate Democrats would approve while avoiding a showdown in which Democrats reject the legislation.

Democrats also have their own considerations. They don’t want to be blamed for a government shutdown over what wasn’t included in the bill.

Still, Democrats have repeatedly held off on a real battle with Republicans over DACA, and most Democrats apparently believe it’s unacceptable to continue pushing this immigration fight down the road.

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Wednesday that no one at the Democrats’ weekly lunch meeting wanted to support the current short-term spending bill. If that’s the case, we’re headed for a government shutdown anyway. It’s just difficult to see that sort of statement, for now, as anything but posturing.

Yes, Democrats want a DACA deal. No, they don’t want another CR. But a shutdown over a bill that is a government funding extension is a precedent Democrats would probably also like to avoid. And Republicans have their own interest in making sure a lapse in government funding doesn’t occur, particularly when they control all the levers of government.

The closer lawmakers actually get to midnight Friday, the more willingness there may be on either side to negotiate. With so little time and the universe of compromises narrowing, though, Congress could easily find itself in a government shutdown that no one really wanted and hardly anyone really expected.

Elise Foley contributed to this report.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said a short-term spending bill is on shaky ground. “At this point, if the vote were to happen today, there’s not the votes to fund it with Republican-only votes.”
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said a short-term spending bill is on shaky ground. “At this point, if the vote were to happen today, there’s not the votes to fund it with Republican-only votes.”
Bill Clark via Getty Images