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The Shutdown Threat Just Got Real

Michael Rainey
·4 mins read

Last week’s tentative deal to prevent a shutdown of the federal government when the fiscal year ends at midnight on September 30 fell apart late Friday, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) reportedly objecting to a White House demand for more money for a farmer bailout as part of the agreement. Republicans blamed Pelosi for backing out of the agreement, while Democrats claimed they had never really made a deal in the first place.

In an attempt to move beyond the dispute, House Democrats unveiled a continuing resolution on Monday that would keep the government open through mid-December. The bill omits the issues that hung up negotiators last week – including $30 billion for a relief fund for farmers that Republicans wanted and roughly $2 billion for food aid for children that Democrats had sought – while extending current funding for most government agencies. The bill would also extend highway funding and the National Flood Insurance Program, and prevent a $50 per month increase in the cost of Medicare Part B.

“The Continuing Resolution introduced today will avert a catastrophic shutdown in the middle of the ongoing pandemic, wildfires and hurricanes, and keep government open until Dec. 11, when we plan to have bipartisan legislation to fund the government for this fiscal year,” Pelosi said in a statement Monday.

House leaders plan to vote on the bill Tuesday.

Republicans are leery. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was quick to criticize the bill, though without stating clearly that he would oppose it. “House Democrats’ rough draft of a government funding bill shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need. This is no time to add insult to injury and defund help for farmers and rural America,” McConnell said in a tweet.

The White House was a bit less critical, suggesting that the Trump administration could conceivably go along with the Democratic plan rather than risk a shutdown. “We do prefer additional farm aid in the CR [continuing resolution],” top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said. “Most of all we want a clean CR to keep the government open.”

The Senate could block a House-passed bill or vote on an amended version and pass it back to the House. It could also ultimately approve the House version and move on to other matters.

Progressives call for new tactics. The news of the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg late Friday added a new potential wrinkle to the negotiations, with some progressives calling for Pelosi to use the continuing resolution – and the threat of a shutdown – to gain leverage in effort to stop or delay the nomination of a new member of the court.

David Sirota, a former speechwriter for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), said Monday that Democrats should consider every possible option in their political battle over the high court, including blocking the “must-pass budget.”

But Pelosi says she’s not interested. Asked by ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on Sunday if she had considered using the government funding bill as leverage in an attempt to slow the nomination of a new Supreme Court justice, Pelosi said “none of us has any interest in shutting down government. That -- that has such a harmful and painful impact on so many people in our country. So I would hope that we can just proceed with that. There is some enthusiasm among some exuberance on the left to say let's use that, but we're not going to be shutting down government.”

Pelosi did say that she is considering other ways to fight the Supreme Court battle. “Well, we have our options,” she said in response to a question about the possibility of using an impeachment proceeding to slow the Senate’s effort to confirm a new judge. “We have arrows in our quiver that I’m not about to discuss right now, but the fact is we have a big challenge in our country.

But the shutdown threat can’t be dismissed entirely. Although all parties involved have said they want to avoid a shutdown of the government, the lack of agreement so close to the deadline – just over a week away – does not bode well. “With McConnell's announcement that Senate R's oppose the CR House Dems filed today, we're suddenly in ‘government shutdown looms’ territory 9 days ahead of deadline,” The Washington Post’s Erica Werner said Monday.

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