Shutdown watch: Presidential Confabs and the Empty Backroom

And so we arrive at Shutdown Friday, and this time the monicker fits. At noon today, the Senate comes back into session in order to consider the funding bill passed yesterday in the House. Mitch McConnell needs ten Democrats to cross the aisle to approve $5 billion in funding for a border wall, which ain’t gonna happen. What then? CNN says don’t look for a backroom deal to emerge, because no one’s working on one:


Often in brink-of-disaster moments on Capitol Hill, there are cooler heads behind the scenes who are working on a way out. Drafting a way to thread the needle. Figuring out a pathway to pull everyone back from the edge. Quietly pulling together a deal to calm everyone and serve as the legislative silver bullet.

That is not happening now. At all.

The federal government is hurtling toward a partial government shutdown. The only way it doesn’t happen is for one side to cave a massive way. And there’s not a lot of hope that’s in the cards, according to aides in both parties on Capitol Hill.

Politico’s Playbook reports that there is “zero doubt” that the House bill will fail today, which has been obvious since the midterms. The border-wall issue didn’t produce very good results for the GOP, which has catalyzed opposition to it among Democrats. Not even adding $8 billion in disaster relief was enough to sway Democrats in the House. That might be one of the “few off ramps” that Politico sees for an end game to the shutdown:

— DISASTER AID ONLY … FIRST, SPEAKER PAUL RYAN, who is in the last days of his tenure in Congress, could put the Senate-passed stopgap with disaster relief and no increase in border money on the floor. There were around 400 lawmakers who voted yesterday.

— UPTICK IN BORDER FUNDS … IF RYAN WON’T PUT THAT ON THE FLOOR — a possibility, considering the backlash to legislation without an uptick in border money — Ryan and McConnell could try to strike some deal that would increase the $1.3 billion of border money to the original offer of $1.6 billion or something thereabouts. This would be tough, because the president already rejected that offer, so why would Schumer put it back on the table without some give on the GOP side?


Schumer doesn’t have any real incentives to make a deal. On January 3rd, the GOP loses control of the House, and any bills passed there without making it into law die at the end of the session. Nancy Pelosi then gets to pass funding bills and Schumer gets more leverage on Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell. Ryan isn’t going to dump all funding for “border security” while retaining the extra money for disaster relief, but he might be able to get more money for non-wall-related border security than the $1.6 billion from the original deal. That would allow Trump to claim some kind of victory and depart the field … but only if he’s actually interested in doing so.

Is he? YMMV:

It might take a while to notice, however, since so many non-essential federal workers are already on vacation:

With the government already closed for Christmas on Monday and Tuesday, and so many staffers planning to be away the rest of the week, bosses were preparing for how to contact employees in case they needed to officially inform them of staffing plans.

The reality was that it could be Wednesday before many agencies would be able to start official preparations for a shutdown, during which furloughed workers must come to work briefly to turn in their government-issued laptops and cellphones and change their voice mail greetings. Employees who have been approved for days off but who are deemed essential would be called back to work.

About 75 percent of the portion of the federal budget controlled by Congress has been funded through September, including the Pentagon, Veterans Affairs and the Health and Human Services Department. That leaves about a quarter of the government — and more than one-third of federal workers — that would have no money appropriated to operate.

The unfunded agencies include the Peace Corps, the Small Business Administration, the General Services Administration, the National Archives and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.


All is not yet lost, however. Trump is meeting with Senate Republicans as we speak. Is this a negotiation, though, or a Glengarry Glen Ross pep talk?

Coffee is for closers. Unfortunately, at the moment there doesn’t appear to be any on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

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