Congress faces another shutdown deadline this week

By George Cahlink | 12/18/2017 06:58 AM EST

Both parties and chambers have different plans for funding the government. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he wasn’t expecting a shutdown but couldn’t rule it out.

Lawmakers must come to a deal on spending this week or see the government shut down.

Lawmakers must come to a deal on spending this week or see the government shut down. Wikipedia (money); Ed Uthman/Flickr (Capitol)

Congress this week will have to pass another temporary spending measure to keep federal agencies from shutting down late Friday evening.

The House Rules Committee will meet at 3 p.m. tomorrow to send the latest stopgap, known as a continuing resolution, to the floor.

Capitol Hill is eyeing a CR that would extend funding through Jan. 19, buying lawmakers time to negotiate an elusive final fiscal 2018 compromise.


A major sticking point is that the parties and the House and Senate have different approaches for those negotiations.

The House is expected to move legislation that would increase funding for the Pentagon for all of fiscal 2018 but provide level spending for all other agencies through mid-January. It would also extend the politically popular Children’s Health Insurance Program.

That strategy is designed to appease conservatives who say they would be reluctant to support another CR that does not increase military dollars.

They are eager to separate Defense Department funding from the rest of government to avoid having to provide a similar boost for domestic coffers.

Under the House plan, U.S. EPA and the Interior and Energy departments would be largely level-funded until mid-January.

The Senate, however, is certain to reject the House approach. Already, Senate Democrats there have said they have the votes to filibuster any spending bill that does not provide parity between defense and non-defense accounts.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), a senior appropriator, said the Senate is eyeing returning a CR to the House that would sidestep the defense increase and keep spending steady into the next year. He added he supports a Pentagon hike but wants some domestic increases too.

Shelby conceded there is not enough time to negotiate a broad deal on spending before Christmas, especially with Republicans in both chambers moving to pass tax reform legislation also this week (see related story).

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), chairman of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, said he’s frustrated that some House members believe they can "jam" the Senate by adjourning for the year after they move a CR with a defense hike.

"If you are going to do that, you better have a return flight because I don’t think the Senate is going to take it up just because we have gone home," he said.

Simpson also expressed frustration that now, almost halfway into fiscal 2018, which began Oct. 1, agencies are being funded at last year’s levels. He said a series of CRs are an "irresponsible way" to run government.

"It means you are addressing the issues that existed in last year’s budget, not this year’s budget. In other words, you are addressing the priorities of the previous administration and not this administration because our appropriations bills [for fiscal 2018] changed a lot of the focus," Simpson added.

Despite the mounting frustration over incomplete spending, it’s widely expected Congress will find a way around a shutdown by passing a CR that treats all agencies equally. The expectation is it will not move until later in the week, after lawmakers move their tax overhaul.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told "Fox News Sunday" about the possibility of a shutdown: "I can’t rule it out, but I can’t imagine it occurring."

Disaster funding

Lawmakers are also wrestling with how to provide aid for victims of recent hurricanes and wildfires before leaving for the holidays.

Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) said lawmakers from Texas and Florida, the states hit hardest by recent storms, have talked about opposing any CR without a commitment to the relief this year.

He said the emergency supplemental spending could be attached to the CR or move as stand-alone legislation this week.

Congressional leaders for now have not said how disaster aid will move, although both chambers favor a package that would be above the $44 billion in relief sought by the White House last month.

"This is not going to be the last supplemental," said Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee.

Calvert declined to offer a dollar figure for a supplemental, but he suggested it would be a down payment on aid to avoid shortfalls until final spending is worked out in the larger omnibus next year.