Back in January, Feb. 8 felt both so close and so far away. As the U.S. government shut down for a weekend, mixed messaging from the White House and the devolution of bipartisan politics ruled the headlines, but a deal was reached—a deal that was heavily criticized by many Democrats, but a deal nonetheless.
Well, the country is now on the eve of that infamous date that could bring about another government shutdown if Congress cannot come to terms on a long-term budget deal. Things are a bit different this trip around the block, however. President Trump showed his true feelings publicly Tuesday when he said, “I’d love to see a shutdown” after a meeting that had nothing to do with the issues surrounding the various Congressional debates. The White House has a clear stance on what it wants to see ahead of an upcoming budget vote, but the president’s feelings center around the immigration debate.
Trump is cementing his stubborn stance on immigration reform as Congress negotiates a budget deal separate from that debate, a decision that has further angered Democrats in the House and Senate, as it lets Republicans off the hook for the promised debate and vote on DACA protections that expire on March 5. Sen. Mitch McConnell and Sen. Chuck Schumer agreed to the precious CR in January after McConnell promised to hold debates and a vote in the Senate on the extension of protections for Dreamers by Feb. 8, but that hasn’t come to pass. It’s another example of an empty promise made by the Senate Majority Leader and was exactly what Democrats feared when the compromise was struck.
Now, the Dreamers have been put on the back burner somewhat as McConnell and Schumer work on a budget deal that is “very close,” according to Slate. The agreement would increase spending by $300 billion dollars, with a large increase in military spending coupled with domestic spending that the Democrats want included in any agreement. Sen. Richard Shelby, speaking to Slate, said the deal is “that close,” holding up his thumb and index finger with roughly a centimeter of space separating them. But that much space still leaves plenty of wiggle room for this house of cards to collapse. “Sometimes you get that close, and things happen … good and bad,” said Shelby.
The deal could fall apart due to various storylines within the House and Senate. Democrats in both houses are very upset that the DACA issue was divorced from the budget issue, and Senate Democrats could choose to break with the party line and not vote on the budget deal in response to McConnell’s broken promise and Schumer’s capitulation to the move. While a debate on immigration is scheduled for next week in the Senate (if the government keeps the lights on), House Democrats were not promised the same thing, and want to keep the immigration and budget negotiations bound together in order to ensure their voice isn’t muffled. It’s a valid concern after Speaker Paul Ryan reiterated his stance of not hearing an argument of immigration on the House floor that didn’t have the support of the president on Tuesday.
The increase in domestic spending the Dems want included in the budget will undoubtedly anger Republicans within both houses, as well. “The thinking seems to be that in order to get much-needed military spending, we’re gonna have to waste more taxpayer dollars on domestic spending,” said Sen. John Kennedy, adding that the move would give him a “stomachache.”
The House is set to vote on their own spending bill, but if the Senate passes a budget plan, more than likely the House bill will be gutted and the Senate’s plan will be attached to it. If that happens, House Republicans would put up a lofty resistance to the deal. Rep. Mark Meadows said Tuesday that such a deal could lose around 90 Republican votes, with the number increasing if the Senate plan includes an increase in the debt ceiling. A loss of Republican votes that substantial could force Ryan to court the Democrats in the House to close that gap.
No matter how positive McConnell and Schumer present the situation to be, the next 48 hours are shaping up to be a political minefield that every member of our government will have to carefully navigate in order to prevent another government shutdown on Thursday. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if the president gets his wish. He needs to make time for another back nine.