Growing opposition to a short-term spending bill in the Senate Thursday increased the risk of a federal shutdown even as President Trump weighed in to say he supports the measure to keep government open.
“Congress needs to do its job and provide full funding of our troops and military,” deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement. “However, as the deal is negotiated, the President wants to ensure our military and national security are funded.”
The short-term spending bill would keep the government open through Feb. 16 while extending a children’s health insurance program for six years and rolling back several taxes in the Affordable Care Act. It does not include a solution for “dreamers,” the undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, as Democrats have demanded.
The House was expected to vote at 7 p.m., and Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) expressed confidence that the bill would pass.
But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) signaled the gravity of the situation by speaking in the present tense about a shutdown as if one was already happening.
“It’s really almost like amateur hour,” she told reporters at her weekly news briefing.
Even if the House manages to approve the short-term spending bill, the measure’s fate in the Senate remains unclear. Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said the vote count was a “very close call,” and a senior Senate Democratic aide said it’s “almost certain” that the spending bill does not have enough support to pass the upper chamber.
A growing number of lawmakers said they opposed the deal — not over immigration, but because they are tired of passing stopgap measures — and demanded that negotiations continue on a longer-term spending bill.
Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark R. Warner of Virginia and Angus King (I-Maine), all of whom voted for the last short-term spending bill, said they would oppose the current GOP proposal. Republican Sen. Mike Rounds (S.D.) joined Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) in saying he would vote no.
“We do not support perpetuating the current budgetary dysfunction that is hurting our country and our Commonwealth,” Kaine and Warner said in a joint statement. “The Republican leadership has to get serious about finding a budget deal and quit relying on short-term patches.
Such opposition has led some senators to discuss the possibility of a new approach: passing one- or two-day extensions of government funding to avoid a shutdown while lawmakers continue to negotiate.
“I’ll vote for one more short-term, but that’s it,” Graham said.
But Republican leaders did not immediately embrace the idea and it was unclear how it would work for the House, which is scheduled to be out of session next week.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who blamed Democrats on Thursday for working to “manufacture a crisis,” said colleagues should plan to work through the weekend if circumstances do not change.
“Joining Democrats to shut down the government plays right into the Democrats’ hand,” he wrote in a note to Republicans, urging them to support the spending bill. “We are strongest when we stick together.”
Durbin said the Democrats are “very unified” headed into a possible vote and touted a compromise bill he created with Graham on immigration.
“I didn’t run for the Senate to shut down the government,” he said. “I’ve come up with a bipartisan plan with Lindsey O. Graham. The administration and the Republicans in the House and Senate have not come up with any plans.”
GOP lawmakers had spent the morning trying to make sense of several early-morning tweets by Trump that seemed to contradict Republicans’ legislative strategy. In the posts, the president appeared to call for the separation of a long-term extension of the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) from a short-term spending bill to keep the government open through mid-February.
While Republicans like Ryan suggested that the president was endorsing the GOP’s approach, others found the tweets inexplicable and unhelpful ahead of a possible election-year shutdown.
“We don’t have a reliable partner at the White House to negotiate with,” said Graham, entering the Capitol building Thursday morning.
“This has turned into an s-show for no good reason, and the only way out of this thing is to grow up a little bit — and I think that’s going to happen,” he said.
The back-and-forth was reminiscent of the chaos that erupted last week after Trump tweeted criticism of an intelligence bill that his administration had endorsed the day before.
Republicans’ goal is to force Democrats into the uncomfortable position of choosing between funding CHIP and their effort to win legal protections for “dreamers.”
All but a few House Democrats said Thursday that they would not support the bill without an immigration or budget deal.
“If we can’t agree, your party has the majority in the House and the Senate to pass your own funding resolution. But that will be a bill we cannot support,” 171 of 193 House Democrats wrote in a letter to Trump.
While prospects for passage were strong in the House, according to GOP leaders, Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned that the situation “doesn’t look good” in the Senate.
“We barely know who to negotiate with,” he said, complaining about Trump’s tweets. “[Republicans] point at each other and nothing gets done.”
The GOP was prepared to target Democrats for opposing the short-term spending with the six-year extension of the children’s health program. The attack would involve letters from governors and statistics from individual states, according to a senior aide.
“It’s just confusing. I don’t know what he means. I don’t know why he’s doing that,” this person said about Trump’s tweets.
If the government closes and its employees are furloughed, it will be the first time under unified party control of Congress and the White House. The military would not cease to operate, but troops would not be paid unless Congress specifically provided for it.
Early Thursday, some Republicans signaled that their patience with the president was wearing thin.
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) said that the level of support in the House for the short-term bill is unclear and that extending CHIP would help avoid a shutdown.
“A lot of House Republicans want a six-year extension. It’s important to us,” he said. “That’s just another one of those inexplicable tweets that’s not very helpful.”
The last shutdown occurred in 2013 and lasted 16 days as Republicans tried unsuccessfully to force changes to the Affordable Care Act.
Shuttered national parks and monuments have become a symbol of shutdowns past, and the Trump administration is drawing up plans to keep them open despite the closure as a way to blunt public anger.