Lawmakers eagerly await bill to avert government shutdown as deadline nears

Still waiting.That's the perspective of the vast majority of lawmakers who haven't seen the $1.3 trillion spen...

Posted: Mar 20, 2018 11:21 AM
Updated: Mar 20, 2018 11:21 AM

Still waiting.

That's the perspective of the vast majority of lawmakers who haven't seen the $1.3 trillion spending bill they'll be expected to vote on in a matter of days in order to stave off a shutdown and fund the federal government through September.

The issues, sources say, are as much logistical as they are policy -- for every last-minute haggle over a policy issue, it adds more time to the process of actually producing the final bill. And, well, there has been no shortage of haggling.

Bottom line: Aides were already skeptical a bill could be filed by Monday night. They were correct. The plan is to post the bill at some point Tuesday morning, meaning everything gets pushed back a day -- and working into the weekend becomes a distinct possibility.

What does that mean in terms of vote timing: Leaders are wandering fairly close to shutdown territory right now -- purely because they may run out of time. At this point, the House would vote on Thursday and the Senate would take the bill up after that. How fast will the Senate move? Well, that depends on how much each individual senator wants to get out of town. Remember, the Senate can do just about anything with unanimous consent.

Are there concerns this bill won't pass? No.

Leaders in both chambers, from both parties, are confident the votes are there to pass the massive spending package in both chambers. It's just a matter of when.


The (possible) saving grace: Several aides and lawmakers are optimistic that things will move quickly for one reason: recess. As in the two weeks lawmakers have scheduled to be away from Washington that starts this weekend. That also means CODELs -- Hill shorthand for congressional delegations going on long-scheduled official foreign trips -- are scheduled to depart Friday night and Saturday. These types of things tend to be motivators for lawmakers who want to wrap up complicated legislation.

Why the delay? Sources involved in the process say it's how to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program -- and the continued efforts by the White House to bring it into the negotiations. Each time proposals have been traded, they've quickly been shot down. But each time a proposal comes into play -- one of the more recent White House efforts was $25 billion in border security money to extend DACA protections through 2020 (Democrats rejected this and countered with pathway to citizenship) -- it slows down the overall negotiations.

As it stands, the DACA deal talks have been snuffed out multiple times over the course of the last three days and are considered dead. But the push for some kind of a deal from the White House has been very real.

Something to keep in mind: This is a massive bill, and is considered by just about everyone to be the last train leaving the station in the 115th Congress.

That, as much as anything, has contributed to the delay, as everything from an online sales tax bill (likely out), to Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization (likely in, for a short period), to disaster and wildfire relief (some form will likely be included) to technical fixes to the 2017 tax law (still being negotiated) have gotten a push for inclusion. Combine all of those new issues with the sheer scale of the amount of work it takes to pull a full omnibus together and two things are guaranteed: last-minute hold-ups and exhausted staff.

This is a reminder: The bill is going to be packed with interesting provisions and items people aren't even talking about publicly right now. As one former appropriations committee staffer put it: "A whole lot of lobbyists are going to make or break their monthly retainers based on what ends up in this bill."

Other large outstanding issues

Obamacare stabilization: The stabilization package -- the combination of health care subsidy funding for three years along with $30 billion for a reinsurance program in exchange for regulatory flexibility -- is gasping for air at this point. House Republicans were told explicitly Monday night the package would not be included, and while Republican senators continue to push for it and make their case, the House GOP insistence on broader abortion restrictions for the funding make it a nonstarter for Democrats.

The likely end-game here is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gives the stabilization piece a standalone amendment vote during Senate consideration of the omnibus. That vote would fail.

Gateway project: Barring a sudden change, this will fall by the wayside. The President's veto threat -- and his borderline obsession with the issue as a negotiating chip, as several sources describe it -- make the fight not worth it. That said, negotiators were still trading proposals on the issue late into Monday night, according to sources.

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Fix NICS: The bipartisan bill to incentivize better compliance with the existing instant background check system is still in play, but hasn't had a clear path into the bill. Democrats, who want a broader debate on guns, haven't given it a push, even though they are broadly supportive of the measure. House Republicans are still wary of it because it doesn't include the concealed-carry provision that was paired with the measure in the House last year.

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