The words “government shutdown” were spoken on the Senate floor Tuesday, signaling the opening of the annual autumnal angst-fest that is funding of the government. This year it has the dollop of uncertainty of a reeling Donald Trump, who could lash out in any possible way, including by refusing to go along with Congress in a fit of impeachment pique. Leaders of both parties are saying it’s highly unlikely, but no one really knows what he’s willing to do when he’s seriously injured and wants to retreat into his safe place, fighting for his beloved border wall.
On Nov. 21, the current spending resolution the government is operating under will expire. While Congress reached a huge agreement on a budget before the August recess, setting spending levels and (importantly) extending the debt ceiling, it didn’t do the actual spending part of the process. There are 12 appropriations bills that have to be accomplished. That’s not happening by Nov. 21, not with Congress taking the first full week of November off. There will be another continuing resolution, another short-term spending bill that keeps funding going at last year’s levels. If Congress follows tradition, that will probably expire the week before Christmas, because it seems to operate with the idea that it needs those kinds of deadlines to get everyone in gear to get stuff done.
This time around, both Sen. Richard Shelby and Rep. Nita Lowey—the Appropriations chiefs on both sides—are talking about trying to avoid that Christmas angst and extend a stop-gap spending bill into 2020. “We’ll probably need a CR. But how long?” Lowey told Politico. “Ask me in a few days.” At the same time, the Senate has set the gears in motion to pass at least a partial spending bill, for Agriculture, Transportation, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, and Justice, plus the FDA, EPA, and National Science Foundation. That would take some of the pressure off, but it leaves Homeland Security and Defense—and Trump’s border wall funding—hanging.
One other thing hanging? The impeachment schedule. “I think looming over all of it is what the House might do on impeachment, and if they do, and when they do it,” Shelby said. “When it comes over here, it becomes the order of the day.” The big uncertain thing hanging over them? Trump. It seems like the appropriators will do their best to keep their heads down and do their work without unduly poking him and hope that he doesn’t make a fuss. But no one can count on that actually happening.