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Senators Unclear on Plan to Fund Government Days Before Funding Expires

Republican senators say second continuing resolution into January possible

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., would need to be consulted to secure needed Democratic votes for a continuing resolution. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., would need to be consulted to secure needed Democratic votes for a continuing resolution. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senators are in the dark on how Congress will eventually move to fund the federal government in fiscal year 2018 just days before the current funding expires.

Republican leaders are pushing a two-week continuing resolution this week to keep the government open, but GOP senators say they are clueless as to what the long-term strategy is after that.

“I have no idea what the plan is,” Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said on Monday evening. “We really don’t play a part in this, other than we vote for whatever they put in front of us.”

“I don’t think anyone knows right now except a handful of people that are crafting it,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said, adding that he expected to be looped in eventually, once GOP leaders “come ask us for our vote.”

Watch: Ryan: House Will Pass Short-Term CR, Shutdown Up to Senate Democrats

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The last-minute rush to avoid a government shutdown is one Washington D.C. is intimately familiar with. But this year is different than past years, as the GOP now controls both the House and Senate, as well as the White House.

Republicans and Democrats have had, at the minimum, two months since the last short-term extension of fiscal year 2017 funding in September to come to an agreement on how to fund the government next year.

Instead, the appropriations process essentially became an afterthought in the Senate as the GOP moved forward with overhauls of the 2010 health law and the U.S. tax code.

“We’ve had time since the last one we did in April. We’ve had since April to do it,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee said, referencing the first spending cliff Congress faced this year.

Senate Republican leaders are confident Democrats will help vote to extend government funding for two-weeks to allow negotiations to continue. But the road to an eventual compromise will likely be extremely difficult, as health care and immigration policy riders (among others) are poised to cause turmoil within the GOP party.

Leadership is keeping discussions on the issue close, keeping even members of the Appropriations Committee in the dark.

“I support getting a spending bill passed as soon as we possibly can. So I’ll wait to hear how the leadership thinks,” Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said.

And optimism is not high among lawmakers in either party that negotiations on a larger spending bill will wrap up before the Christmas holiday break.

“Everything I’ve been told is the goal is to do a spending bill by [December] 22. But given indications of our past experience on this thing it doesn’t seem terribly likely,” Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, along with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, are set to meet with President Donald Trump on Thursday to discuss the path forward.

A GOP leadership aide said that House Republicans are aiming to hold a vote Wednesday on the two-week CR, a timeline that could create drama if Democrats try to postpone it until after the meeting at the White House.

And while many Republican and Democratic members said they were unaware of what the long-term solution will be, several seemed resigned to the fact that another CR until January would be necessary.

“I’ve heard for the first time today — through staff though, not through members — that there’s a possibility that there’ll be one going to January,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa said on Monday.

“We’ve got three or four scenarios floating around. It’s December. It’s getting toward Christmas in just a few weeks. Is it possible to do something big like an omnibus or a hybrid? It is, but not likely in a few weeks,” Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, a Republican member of the Appropriations panel, said. “I’m not sure yet but probably another CR.”

Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.

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