One hundred and eight days have elapsed since October 1, 2017.
Since the stroke of midnight on that date, the United States federal government has been operating on a seemingly never-ending series of weeks-long, short-term, stopgap “continuing resolutions” designed to temporarily buy time for lawmakers and the White House to negotiate a longer-term spending bill. As each continuing resolution has neared its expiration date with Congress seemingly no closer to a long-term deal, the drama in the Capitol has built. Will the federal government shut down? With Republicans at the helm of both the Executive and Legislative branches of government, would Americans blame the GOP, further handicapping their already-threatened electoral chances this November? Or would President Trump’s charges of obstructionism put Democrats on the defensive? Each time we’ve traveled down this road in the last three-and-a-half months, the artificial crisis of a government shutdown has been averted, in some cases more narrowly than others, making moot any theoretical political prognostications. But that may very soon change.
The most recent continuing resolution, enacted into law just before Christmas, expires at midnight on Friday and there are mounting indications suggesting that Congressional leaders, who still have yet to agree on a long-term spending bill, may not have the votes to send yet another continuing resolution to President Trump by tomorrow night.
A growing number of more conservative Republicans – the so-called Freedom Caucus – have been becoming progressively frustrated with GOP leadership’s inability to put forth a long-term spending bill that addresses what they perceive to be a government spending problem. These fiscal hawks, who have long been proponents of drastic reductions to government spending, view current government spending levels as unsustainable. A continuing resolution, by definition, extends current levels of government spending, even if only for a short period time. These Republicans, whose numbers are large enough to sink a vote on the House floor, have signaled this week that they’ve had their fill of spending bills that don’t meaningfully address the deficit.
Democrats, increasingly irate at the White House’s immigration stance – a position that has only solidified since the President’s reported remarks at a meeting to discuss the issue last week have made headlines around the world – and insistent that any spending bill must include a permanent fix to address the legal status of so-called “Dreamers”, are asserting that they will oppose another continuing resolution as a bloc unless such a fix is included. With no indication that the White House and Republican leadership have reached agreement on immigration language, it appears likely that the Democrats will make good on their promise.
To entice Democrats to support a continuing resolution, even in the absence of any provisions to address Dreamers, GOP leadership had planned to attach to the bill language extending the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – a Democratic priority – by six years. Though that almost certainly would have put some Democrats in a tough position, and may have even provided Congressional leaders with just enough votes to avert a shutdown tomorrow, President Trump this morning, appears to have put the kibosh on this plan at the 11th hour:
Speaker Ryan (R-WI) and Leader McConnell (R-KY) now must decide whether to push forward with the four-week continuing resolution, which includes CHIP, they intended to try to move through the House and Senate today and tomorrow to avert a shutdown, or whether President Trump’s tweet injected sufficient chaos into an already uncertain situation to require a completely new game plan.
They have 36 hours to find a solution.