The Republican-controlled Senate will take up two spending bills this Thursday as lawmakers try to figure out a way to end the government shutdown, now entering its second month.
The Senate is set to take procedural votes on both President Trump’s proposal, which he announced this weekend, and a short-term spending bill already passed by the Democratic House, which would reopen all agencies affected by the government shutdown through February 8. Both bills do not look like they will clear the 60 votes needed to advance them, however.
Trump’s proposal includes his desired $5.7 billion for his border wall, as well as a three-year extension for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status programs, two legal immigration programs Trump has started to dissolve. Democrats’ bill, meanwhile, would open the government first and fund all agencies at existing levels, allowing negotiations over border security to take place after the government is open.
Meanwhile, House Democrats are planning to hold their own vote on another six-bill spending package, which has their version of a concession: an additional $1 billion for border-related efforts that would beef up existing infrastructure and fund more immigration judges rather than provide money for Trump’s wall. Democrats hope this sweetener will prompt some movement in the Senate, but without border wall funding, McConnell probably won’t bite.
Both Senate bills lack support. Trump’s option is not expected to draw many moderate Democrats and may not even earn the backing of all Republicans in the chamber. Similarly, the Democratic one is not expected to win over the necessary Republicans to secure passage, especially given Trump’s outstanding promise to veto this option. Though McConnell is allowing the bill to come to the floor, he is not supporting the bill, Raju reported.
The two proposals could help ignite debate, however. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) has said he thinks the Trump option could ultimately serve as a starting point for discussion and allow Republicans to argue that they’re taking action to end the shutdown.
Thus far, the House has sent nine bills to reopen the government to the Senate, and McConnell has brought none to the floor. Thursday’s vote would mark the first that he’s raised for consideration.
With both the Trump and Democratic options expected to fail in the Senate, the stalemate is only expected to continue, however.
What’s happening in the Senate
McConnell, who has largely been on the sidelines during the shutdown fight, has finally broken his silence to back the proposal that Trump introduced this past weekend. “Everyone has made their point — now it’s time to make a law,” he said in a Saturday statement. “I intend to move to this legislation this week. With bipartisan cooperation, the Senate can send a bill to the House quickly so that they can take action as well.”
Senate Republicans unveiled the 1,300-page draft bill, dubbed the “End the Shutdown and Secure the Border Act,” early this week. In addition to the border security demands levied by Trump, it also includes more than $12 billion for natural disaster funding as well as an extension of funds for the Violence Against Women Act.
The Senate will consider a Democratic bill to reopen the government as well. That legislation would not include any border wall funding, but would reopen agencies through February 8 and enable lawmakers to continue negotiating on border security once the government is open.
McConnell has repeatedly said he wouldn’t take up any bill that doesn’t have Trump’s support and used this rationale as his reasoning for rejecting numerous House bills that would have reopened the government. Previously, he had also said he wasn’t interested in taking “show votes” on legislation that doesn’t have a chance of passing the Senate, which makes his decision to take up Trump’s bill somewhat confusing.
Any spending bill will require 60 votes to pass the Senate, and while Republicans have a 53-47 majority, they would still need seven Democrats to peel off in order to get it through. As things currently stand, there’s no indication that seven moderate Democrats would join with Republicans to approve the bill in its current form, meaning its vote will likely fail.
Democrats, similarly, will need 13 Republicans to join with them to pass the House spending bill and there’s no sign that they have these numbers either.
As Lankford indicated, however, the point of taking up Trump’s “straw man” proposal isn’t so much to pass the existing version as it is to start a conversation about a new one that could hopefully secure some bipartisan backing.
Ultimately, Trump’s introduction of the proposal, and McConnell’s support for it, is intended to demonstrate Republicans’ willingness to make an offer and push Democrats to come to the table. If both votes fail, as expected, the two sides could be forced to determine if they could find some middle ground.
What’s happening in the House
House Democrats are well prepared to defend their side in this optics battle. They’re also offering concessions, including a boost to border security-related funding, even as they oppose any funding for Trump’s border wall.
In the past few weeks, Democrats in the House have voted on nine proposals to reopen the government. Their consistent message is, “Reopen the government, and then let’s talk border security,” and these bills reflect that. There have been bills to either reopen every government agency except the Department of Homeland Security or fully reopen every closed government agency but keep DHS at current funding levels.
But Democrats are starting to add more money for border-related items in the hopes of signaling their openness to compromise. House Democrats are planning to add $1 billion more in total spending to various agency budgets in a six-bill package they will vote on this week. This money wouldn’t be used for a wall or physical barrier at the border; it would be dedicated for boosting infrastructure at existing ports of entry and increasing the number of immigration judges who can process migrants’ cases.
House Democrats will also vote on a separate short term continuing resolution to fund the Department of Homeland Security through February 28, according to a spokesperson for the House Appropriations Committee.
The New York Times’s Julie Hirschfeld Davis reports that Democrats are also considering a new funding bill for DHS that would increase the number of department personnel like border agents, as well as scanning technology that would help agents screen for drugs coming across the border. Current level funding for DHS is set at $1.3 billion; it’s unclear how much this potential new bill would add.
Despite the picture Trump and White House officials routinely paint about drugs coming across the open border, the vast amount of illegal drugs, including 90 percent of heroin, 88 percent of cocaine, 87 percent of methamphetamine, and 80 percent of fentanyl, came through ports of entry in 2018, according to statistics from US Customs and Border Protection.
Up to this point, Democrats’ messaging has largely been around what they are opposed to. Now they are trying to show which border security measures they could actually support.
Still, as we head toward yet another Friday pay period for government employees who are either furloughed or working without pay, we are nowhere near a deal.