Is Congress Headed Toward a Government Shutdown?

Mitch McConnell would need crossover votes for his continuing resolution

The Senate's Ohio Clock needed to be re-set after it stopped ticking during the 2013 government shutdown. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
The Senate's Ohio Clock needed to be re-set after it stopped ticking during the 2013 government shutdown. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted September 26, 2016 at 5:00am

It might be time to dust off the government shutdown clocks.

A senior Democratic aide said Senate Democrats are expected to block the stopgap spending plan that’s currently on the table.

Even if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can rally enough votes for his continuing resolution (he’ll need more than a handful of Democrats given opposition from some members of his own conference), the legislation likely would not arrive in the House until Wednesday or Thursday, meaning that the House vote would be all-but-certain to take place on the verge of government funding expiring.

House Republican leaders have shown patience, and House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers of Kentucky has expressed support for the Senate-led proposal.

Too early to panic?

President Barack Obama believes Congress “has some more work to do” in crafting a CR that he is likely to sign, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Friday.

“It is too early for people to panic about a government shutdown,” he said.

But he urged lawmakers to come up with a stopgap that can pass both chambers and garner Obama’s signature without using all remaining days before the government would run out of money.

McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, got the gears turning Sept. 22 for a key procedural vote Tuesday afternoon to stop a potential filibuster of the Republican spending package that’s generally clean, but leaves by the wayside emergency funding for the lead-plagued water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

The inclusion of what Republicans described as a “down payment” on supplemental aid to flood-ravaged communities in Louisiana but not the Flint money drew the ire of Michigan Democrats, and it appears to be a key to Democratic opposition in the Senate.

“There is no reason why we cannot include assistance for Flint in the year-end government funding bill, along with aid to help victims of flooding in Louisiana. Families in Flint have waited far too long for help, and they still do not have safe water,” Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters said.

A Senate-passed water resources bill is the vehicle for aid to Flint, but there won’t be a conference report produced before the end of this September session. 

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas accused Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada of stalling and refusing to complete negotiations on what is a generally agreed-upon spending package.

Given the end-of-the week deadline, Cornyn said, “I don’t know what the alternative is,” to McConnell scheduling a vote on a plan without Reid’s support.

Work in progress

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said that talks would continue between Democrats and Republicans in an effort to strike a deal before the scheduled Tuesday afternoon vote.

“Oh sure, very constructive,” Mikulski said of the discussions. “We’re a work in progress.”

As the release of McConnell’s plan was imminent, Reid seemed particularly critical of the continuation of language in current appropriations law that blocks the Securities and Exchange Commission from compelling companies from disclosing so-called “dark money” campaign contributions.

“The president will accept no riders,” Reid said. “If they want to get out of here, we’ve got Zika resolved. Do a clean CR and they can leave in 10 minutes.”

The SEC provision being continued is not literally a new rider, but it has prompted outside campaign finance watchdog groups who are longtime adversaries of McConnell to accuse him of risking a government a shutdown.

“Our lawmakers can’t pass standalone legislation blocking democracy reforms, so instead they snuck a provision into today’s continuing resolution behind closed doors,” said Dan Smith of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “That kind of politics is great if you’re raising money from special interest groups, but it shortchanges the American public.”

How many of Reid’s Democrats will join hands in opposition to the McConnell-led proposal over the campaign finance provision and the lack of dollars for Flint is sure to be the primary topic of discussion at Tuesday’s caucus lunch which would take place just ahead of the vote.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson “Yes, ma’am,” when asked by a Roll Call reporter last Thursday if he thought Democrats would stand united, but hours later, he issued a statement saying that given the urgent need to get funds to fight the Zika virus in his home state, he would be on board.

“While I support the people of Flint, my priority is the people of Florida. This bill provides a clean $1.1 billion to help stop the spread of Zika virus with no political riders, and I will support it,” Nelson said.

Just how many Democratic senators might join Nelson will not be known until they emerge from their weekly lunch minutes before the vote.

Bridget Bowman and John T. Bennett contributed to this report.Contact Lesniewski at and follow him on Twitter @nielslesniewski.