House Strikes Deal to Avoid a Government Shutdown

The House of Representatives appears to have come to a deal to keep the government operating until September, and also to avoid a government shutdown that still could start this weekend. But if Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are pleased with the compromise, many others are not. Conservative members don’t plan to vote for it, continuing their trend of refusing to act like a governing party and forcing their leadership to rely on Democratic votes just to keep the government’s doors open. Many liberals are displeased with the result, too, but that’s to be expected on any spending bill that is written by Republicans and approved by a Republican White House.

It’s relatively easy to craft these kinds of deals in the House so long as a significant number of Democrats are willing to go along because all that’s needed is a majority and it doesn’t matter how the Speaker gets to one. But, in the Senate, they need unanimous consent from all 100 members to move to a vote. Even one senator objecting can cause a delay that forces Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to file for cloture and seek 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

McConnell can probably get 60 votes, but not necessarily in time to avoid at least a brief shutdown of the government. And he may have to make further concessions to get the Democratic votes he will need. Either way, it looks like unanimous consent is highly unlikely.

[Senator Rand] Paul [of Kentucky] said Wednesday that he had not decided how he would handle the new bill, telling reporters that he would wait to read it first. But he made clear that he was unlikely to be pleased by its contents.

“I think it is safe to say that there are many voices in the Senate, including many Republicans, who are not real happy about having a thousand-page bill crammed down our throat at the last minute without time to read it,” he said. “It’s a really terrible, rotten, no-good way to run your government.”

On Thursday morning, Paul tweeted that it had taken more than two hours to print out the bill so he could review it.

Where I come from, $1.6 billion is real money, but it’s not really that large of a number in the context of the federal budget. That’s how much money the House Democrats have agreed to give the president for his stupid wall.

The bill includes $1.6 billion in funding for construction of a border wall, but that number is far short of the $25 billion in long-term funding that the administration sought. Democrats also won tight restrictions on how that money can be spent.

There’s some significant movement on guns.

Democrats agreed to add bipartisan legislation to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) for gun buyers, while Republicans agreed to add language making clear that federal funds can be spent on research into gun violence — clarifying a long-standing restriction that has been interpreted as preventing such research.

I actually think this is a major win. It may not yield much during the Trump administration, but future administrations will be able to do some actual science on the gun problem which I think is badly needed to inform our policy makers and the public.

On taxes, the Republicans were desperate enough to get a fix on a mistake they made in their hastily drafted tax bill that they agreed to give the Democrats a boost in the low-income housing tax credit in exchange.

Finally, on Russia, the results were mixed by generally positive:

While a Democratic push to win provisions protecting special counsel Robert S. Mueller III did not succeed, the bill does include hundreds of millions of dollars to combat potential interference from Russia or others in the November midterm elections. The federal Election Assistance Commission will receive $380 million to dole out to states to improve their election-related cybersecurity. And the FBI is set to receive $300 million in counterintelligence funding to combat Russian hacking.

So, first we’ll be interested to see the roll call vote in the House, especially considering how many vulnerable Republicans are serving there. And then we’ll be looking to see if there is a filibuster in the Senate and, if so, how quickly it can be overcome. The Senate Democrats would extract further concessions, although I don’t think they want a a government shutdown that can be pinned on them, so they can’t push so hard that they blow up the deal in the House. Still, they could probably get a few nibbles at the apple if they are so inclined.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.