As Trump Refuses to Rule Out a Government Shutdown, Lawmakers Point to Short-Term Funding Savior

Congress is once again hurtling toward a government shutdown set to commence later this month—unless lawmakers act.

When backed against a wall to avert a halt of government in September, Congress passed—and President Donald Trump signed—a continuing resolution (CR) that temporarily funded the government. But that CR funding runs out November 21, a fast-approaching deadline for the snail-like pace at which Capitol Hill typically operates.

The idea of a looming shutdown that's little more than two weeks away already has lawmakers saying they'll be forced to again pass a CR. The question has morphed from if a CR will be necessary into how long one will need to be, essentially abandoning hope of passing a budget by the pre-Thanksgiving deadline.

"My assessment is one could run into February," said. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "Will it? It's not up to me."

Trump has not ruled out a government shutdown amid the House's fast-moving impeachment inquiry, and Americans who were impacted by the nation's longest closure of government during last year's holiday season undoubtedly fret another.

Asked whether he could commit to avoiding a shutdown, Trump responded on Sunday: "It depends on what the negotiation—I wouldn't commit to anything."

"We'll see what happens...[Democrats] aren't getting anything done," he continued. "All they can do is talk about one phone call made to the President of Ukraine that was perfect. It was prefect. It was a perfect phone call and they're hanging their hat on this one phone call."

Shelby emphasized he'd rather come to an agreement with the House and have both chambers pass appropriations bills for the current fiscal year. But with just eight remaining working days left where Congress, as a whole, will be in town to hash out such a deal, Shelby suggested a CR extending until years' end was a plausible outcome.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 Republican in the chamber as GOP Conference Chairman, said a CR may go through the end of the year, too. And Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the No. 4 Republican as chair of the GOP Policy Committee, said "there would almost have to be another CR."

Government Shutdown Deadline Looms
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) speaks to reporters in the Senate basement before a weekly policy luncheon on April 2 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty

Shelby also said he aims to meet personally with Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, sometime next week to hopefully come to a "resolution of our differences" on spending bills. The House is currently on recess until November 12, the day after Veterans' Day.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, also indicated a CR was inevitable, despite the fact he "hates continuing resolutions." His hope was that the temporary funding measure would be as short as possible.

"Well, unfortunately, when they say it's necessary, it makes it necessary," Leahy said. "It could have been done if everybody wanted to sit down and work."

More than a month into the current fiscal year, the House has passed 10 of 12 spending bills to fund government agencies while the Senate has passed just four. But zero of the appropriations measures that have passed align, which means the chambers must still negotiate spending levels.

On top of that, there is still a battle over funding for Trump's southern border wall, including how to pay for the $3.5 billion the president unilaterally diverted from the Pentagon to wall construction as part of his emergency declaration. Trump has requested some $5 billion for this year's budget, a figure that House Democrats will not approve.

For the second time, Senate Democrats blocked a procedural vote to advance a defense spending bill last week because they accused their GOP counterparts of including border wall money.

"Since our Democratic colleagues chose last week to filibuster defense funding and blocked legislation to fund our armed forces, we'll turn our focus to [judicial] confirmations while we wait for progress on appropriations," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor Tuesday.