The death of former President George H.W. Bush is pushing lawmakers to pass a two-week funding extension.
Congress is punting its shutdown fight over President Donald Trump’s border wall until just before Christmas, delaying a brutal battle after the death of President George H.W. Bush essentially shut down the Capitol this week.
House leaders unveiled a bill Monday afternoon that will extend government funding until Dec. 21, moving a partial shutdown date two weeks down the road from this Friday’s deadline.
And while lawmakers are hopeful that more negotiating time will help resolve a prolonged standoff around Trump’s demand for $5 billion in wall funding, people in both parties lamented that two more weeks is unlikely to do much to change the overall dynamics of the impasse.
“We could have finished it today,” groused Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “We’ve been negotiating all weekend.”
“I don’t know why we’d have [a spending bill] going to Dec. 21. We know what we have to do. Let’s just get it done in a shorter period of time so we can go home for the holidays,” agreed Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). He dubbed former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) “a grinch” for having the Senate in before a Christmas holiday in the past.
While the two-week spending bill does buy some time for talks to continue, it doesn’t mean Trump and Democrats will find consensus on the border wall. Congressional leaders are now betting that the pain of staying in Washington deep into December is motivation enough for lawmakers to reach a deal and avoid what people in both parties now fret could be a long partial shutdown later this year month.
“We have to avoid a shutdown. If we haven’t learned our lessons in the past, I don’t think we’ll ever learn them,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the GOP’s most senior senator.
GOP and Democratic leaders had spent the week haggling over a short-term resolution. Republicans were pushing for a two-week funding extension, while Democrats — especially House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California — argued for a one-week delay. In the end, Democrats agreed to go along with the GOP proposal.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Monday afternoon that the chamber would take up a two-week funding bill later this week if the House passes it. Congress is also hoping to clinch a farm bill and perhaps take up criminal justice reform before adjourning for the year, though the latter measure sharply divides Republicans.
Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had been scheduled to huddle privately with Trump in the Oval Office on Tuesday, but the meeting was postponed following Bush’s death, according to a senior Democratic aide. No Republicans were invited to the session. Pelosi and Schumer have requested the meeting take place on Dec. 11 instead.
Trump expressed a willingness to pass a short-term funding extension after Bush’s death, which has consumed Washington and frozen congressional business.
House GOP leaders have canceled votes in the chamber this week due to the Bush funeral proceedings. The Senate will hold votes late Wednesday.
Bush died Friday at the age of 94. His remains arrived in Washington on Monday night, and his body will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda until Wednesday morning. A state funeral later that morning at the Washington National Cathedral will be attended by Trump and a host of other dignitaries. Bush’s body then will be taken back to Texas for interment.
All spending negotiations will effectively be on hold until the meeting with Trump, Pelosi and Schumer is rescheduled, a Democratic aide said.
The vast majority of dealmaking is already done, with six out of the seven outstanding appropriations bills essentially finished. But spending leaders can’t tie things up until Trump and Democrats can agree on border wall funding.
House Appropriations Committee staffers met Sunday to hammer out details for billions of dollars in disaster aid in the aftermath of devastating wildfires in California.
The disaster package — which is likely to be attached to the next spending deal rather than any short-term continuing resolution — will also include aid for Hurricane Michael victims in the Florida Panhandle and survivors of Indonesia’s deadly tsunami, which both struck in October.
Funding for Trump’s controversial border wall remains the key sticking point in crafting an overall budget deal. Trump wants $5 billion allocated for wall construction, although Republican leaders have suggested spreading the money over two years.
Schumer, though, has said he won’t budge beyond the $1.6 billion in border security funding agreed to as part of an omnibus budget deal hashed out earlier this year.
And Pelosi — who is set to become speaker on Jan. 3 if she can win a House roll call vote — isn’t interested in any money for the wall.
Pelosi’s Democratic colleagues, especially incoming freshmen, loathe the notion of a border wall and have pressed her to block it. With Pelosi in need of nearly every Democratic vote to regain the speakership, her freedom to negotiate on this issue is very limited.
In a tweet on Monday, Trump said the United States would “save Billions of Dollars if the Democrats would give us the votes to build the Wall,” although he didn’t explain how those savings would occur.
Trump added: “Either way, people will NOT be allowed into our Country illegally! We will close the entire Southern Border if necessary. Also, STOP THE DRUGS.”