With a partial government shutdown approaching on Saturday, how far along have negotiations gotten to preventing it? According to CNN, they haven’t even begun yet. And even if they do, there may not be enough legislators left on Capitol Hill to execute an agreement.
For now, though, there’s no agreement to execute, not even in proposal form:
The federal government faces a partial shutdown in five days and nobody on Capitol Hill — Republican allies of President Donald Trump or Democratic opponents — has any idea what the President will or won’t accept in terms of a deal. Congressional Democrats laid out their government funding proposals last week and haven’t moved from them. Congressional Republicans have been waiting since then for guidance from the White House on next steps — a counter proposal? A short-term punt? Some combination of the two?
Here’s the key piece of this that has Capitol Hill uneasy: whatever the President decides to do, there will likely need to be some legislative posturing and back and forth after before any real deal making begins. Every day the White House waits to send forth a proposal or options is a day less to go through that dance. That’s a problem. As one frustrated senior Republican aide put it Sunday night: “Maybe Monday is the day we finally figure out how this whole process starts. Or maybe not.”
Notice the aide said “starts.” We’re not near the finish yet.
But if they do put together an agreement that suits Republicans, can it pass the House? Right now the GOP maintains the majority until the next session starts in early January — theoretically speaking, anyway. In reality, dozens of lame-duck members have already flown the coop:
Just days before a deadline to avert a partial government shutdown, President Trump, Democratic leaders and the Republican-controlled Congress are at a stalemate over the president’s treasured border wall. But House Republican leaders are also confronting a more mundane and awkward problem: Their vanquished and retiring members are sick and tired of Washington and don’t want to show up anymore to vote.
Call it the revenge of the lame ducks. Many lawmakers, relegated to cubicles as incoming members take their offices, have been skipping votes in the weeks since House Republicans were swept from power in the midterm elections, and Republican leaders are unsure whether they will ever return.
It’s likely not revenge but homelessness. More than a few of them had to go back to have a roof over their heads, Paul Kane explains:
One indirect cause of no-shows for House votes: Many have nowhere to live during lame duck.
Nearly 100 members are retiring, probably a couple dozen who slept in their offices. They lost those offices a few weeks ago. No bed, no DC, no vote.https://t.co/MX7TTz4dMR
— Paul Kane (@pkcapitol) December 17, 2018
Several of Kane’s followers scoffed at that explanation, suggesting that hotels are widely available in DC. True, but they’re also wildly expensive, and taxpayers don’t cover those costs. If it was a matter of just waiting a couple of days for a scheduled vote, perhaps most if not all of them would stick around. Right now, though, they have no idea when a vote might take place or if one will materialize at all. With nowhere to go and the holidays rolling around, they’re going back to their families — and they almost certainly won’t come back. It’s tough to blame them for not ponying up a fortnight’s worth of hotel charges in DC on the off chance they might be needed.
Nothing happened this weekend to instill optimism about a solution being near:
No further conversations occurred over the weekend between Democratic leaders and the White House, aides said.
“They have not responded to our offers,” said an aide to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who’s poised to be formally elected speaker in January. …
During the Oval Office meeting last Tuesday between President Donald Trump, Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the Democratic leaders gave the president two options to keep the government open: either Congress passes six remaining appropriations bills and a one-year spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security that maintains current funding levels or it passes a one-year spending bill extending current levels for half of the government.
The White House, however, hasn’t entertained either idea — and Democrats have made clear they don’t plan to budge. Top White House adviser Stephen Miller doubled down Sunday on Trump’s threat to shut down the government in order to secure his requested $5 billion in funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Doubling down may be an understatement. Miller’s certainly not projecting an air of conciliation here:
On @FaceTheNation, Stephen Miller says the Trump administration will do whatever is necessary to get the border wall, including a government shutdown in the coming days https://t.co/LgthZpkQXj pic.twitter.com/ZjoIsD5LUT
— CBS News (@CBSNews) December 16, 2018
Just putting Miller out in a rare Sunday morning appearance shows that Donald Trump wants this fight, or a deal strictly on his terms alone. He made that clear this morning too:
Anytime you hear a Democrat saying that you can have good Border Security without a Wall, write them off as just another politician following the party line. Time for us to save billions of dollars a year and have, at the same time, far greater safety and control!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 17, 2018
The dirty truth in all this is that the fight works for both parties. Republicans chose Trump in large part to draw this line in the sands of the Rio Grande, and Democrats want this fight to show their solidarity with their base. At some point it has to give, but it won’t produce an effective settlement when it does. Both sides have incentives to keep this issue an open wound, while neither have any incentives for mutual compromise. And both parties have sent politicians packing who argue for give-and-take, including some of those who are heading back home early this session.
Under those circumstances, who can blame the lame-duck House members for blowing town? They’re homeless in more ways than one.