Senate Democrats are warning a new shutdown showdown looms in September, even as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated there wouldn’t be any government shutdowns on his watch.
“Let me say it again: no more government shutdowns,” the Kentucky Republican said, when asked how he intended to adhere to his pledge made numerous times. “We have divided government. … At some point we’ll negotiate the way forward.”
McConnell: Government Will Not Shut Down in September
But Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said there have been no such discussions on the path forward for funding the government past Sept. 30, either with him or with President Barack Obama. And New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat, said the potential interest in using a continuing resolution to stop federal funds from flowing to Planned Parenthood was a mistake.
“You cannot hold the entire government hostage to make your ideological point and try to get your ideological way, and so Republicans are knowingly putting us on a path to shut down the government if they pursue this reckless strategy. And let me just say, it’s not just on this issue, they have four or five others. Any of them will be a path to shutdown and shutdown will fall on their shoulders. If they try to take hostages. If they try to add extraneous riders and say you have to keep those riders … they’re headed for a government shutdown,” Schumer said. “We hope they are not. We hope they’ve learned their lessons.”
Democrats Warn of Looming Government Shutdown
But in addition to the August recess, two legislative debates are ahead of the government funding battles, including a September battle over what McConnell said would most likely be a bill to disapprove of the multinational agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear program.
“I think it’s an extremely important debate for our country. It has everything to do with our national security. I think it ought to be treated in the Senate as a different matter, and so I’ll be trying to get consent to have a debate in which we have time set up for each senator to speak. I’ll be asking for each senator to remain at their desks during the debate, actually listen to each other during the course of the debate, leading to the final vote,” McConnell said. “I think this issue’s of such magnitude that it’s my hope we will not be having committee meetings going on at the same time.”
That would be a most unusual debate in a Senate chamber where as a practical matter lawmakers generally address only a presiding officer and a few floor aides.
McConnell Proposes Structure for Iran Debate
More immediately, Senate leaders are holding out hope for an agreement on amendments to move a bipartisan cybersecurity bill before August recess, but the clock is ticking. And it’s not like there’s much more time to advance the legislation after Labor Day.
“Quite a few amendments are going to be offered by members relating to privacy and overseas enforcement,” Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said. “We’re probably in the range of six to 10 amendments on the Democratic side that would, I think, satisfy most members.”
As McConnell was heading the floor to make an ill-fated offer to proceed to the cybersecurity bill and make a limited number of amendments pending , Durbin was standing outside the chamber telling reporters it seemed too early in the process to discuss exchanging lists of amendments between Democratic and Republican leadership.
“We haven’t quite reached the point where we’ve talked about exchanging one, so I hope we can soon if we’re going to finish it this week,” Durbin said, calling the amendment agreement the key to advancing the bill.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., explained on the Senate floor that he had concerns that merely making an amendment pending would not guarantee a vote if there’s an eventual vote to limit debate, since that would trigger a germaneness requirement.
Speaking with reporters, Reid suggested McConnell’s move on the cybersecurity bill, which still faces bipartisan concerns about privacy protections, might be a ruse.
“He wants to drag this out, I guess, until the recess is over, and then move on to the very limited period of time we have to work on Iran,” Reid said. “It appears to me this is an effort just to stall and stall and stall, so Sen. McConnell can come out and say, ‘See, they killed cyber.’”
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is a leader of the group of senators with concerns about the underlying legislation.
“If you have information sharing without vigorous privacy safeguards, millions of Americans are going to consider that to be a surveillance bill,” Wyden told reporters.
Another senator who often sides with Wyden on civil liberties matters, Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky, has filed a dozen amendments to the cybersecurity bill, including several that would roll back surveillance provisions of the measure that became law as the USA Freedom Act, potentially re-opening a heated debate from earlier this year.
Paul, a presidential candidate, also has amendments on hot button topics like immigration “sanctuary cities” and auditing the Federal Reserve.