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Congress is keeping the government open … for another week

Senate Legislators Address The Press After Their Weekly Policy Luncheons Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The government isn’t shutting down, or at least not for a week.

Congress passed a temporary funding bill Friday just hours ahead of the midnight deadline when the government would have run out of money. The new deadline is May 5.

Congress couldn’t strike a deal on a larger bill to fund the government for fiscal year 2017, so they bought some time with the stop-gap called a “continuing resolution.”

The problem is the extra week doesn’t change the politics.

The GOP is in control of the House, Senate, and White House, but Republicans still need bipartisan support in the Senate to pass a spending bill. Democrats are using their leverage to shape government spending. That means any attempt to fund the border wall, roll back environmental and consumers protections, or pull funding from Planned Parenthood would be met with unified Democratic opposition, Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer warned Republicans. Rep. Joseph Crowley of New York, who chairs the Democratic caucus in the House, said he is under the impression that Republicans need his party’s help pass a spending bill on the House side as well.

“We’re willing to extend things for a little bit more time, in hopes that the same kind of progress can continue to be made,” Schumer told reporters.

To put it another way, if this was college, Congress just got a week-long extension on its group project. Now they still have to do the work.

Negotiations are still ongoing. A Republican aide close to the appropriations process maintains that a “shutdown is not on the table,” but it’s clear to keep the government running House leadership will likely have to make some serious concessions to Democrats. That is sure to enrage the right flank of their own party.

Congress got an extension, but now comes the hard part

Chuck Schumer Holds Press Briefing On Current Government Budget Negotiations
Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Chuck Schumer, have a lot of leverage in the spending fight
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Many of Trump’s campaign promises are at stake in this fight — and Democrats have made it clear they don’t want to concede on any of them.

If Republicans didn’t need Democrats to pass a bill, they would want to hike up defense spending, grant Trump’s border wall supplemental budget, defund Planned Parenthood (although Speaker Paul Ryan has said that belongs in the health care debate), and make sure subsidies to insurance companies core to Obamacare’s functionality weren’t included. Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have opposed those moves. And it’s likely Democrats will get their way because the Senate needs 60 votes to pass the spending bill — meaning Republicans need their entire party plus eight Democrats to sign on.

Senate and House Democrats have already warned Republicans that any attempt to pass funding for the border wall in the 2017 appropriations bill or other “poison pills” like defunding Planned Parenthood would be met with unified Democratic resistance — which would result in a shutdown. Passing the CR gives them a little more time to negotiate.

“Not all of the poison pill riders have been eliminated, some have. A good number have,” Schumer said. “We still have a little bit more ways to go, and we still have some poison pill riders that they haven’t dropped yet.”

Eventually, Republicans will either have to make peace with a shutdown or make some concessions to Democrats. It looks as though they’re leaning toward the latter, which would result in an omnibus bill that’s pretty friendly to Democrats.

There are some areas of possible agreement, like increases in defense funding and a watered-down compromise on border security, possibly to fund more technology — an area that has more bipartisan support. But it all depends on the language, Crowley said.

“I do think that enhancements in terms of border security, homeland security, and how much more of an uptick there will be in domestic spending in contrast to raising military spending [remain as sticking points],” Crowley said. “If we are raising military spending by $10 to $15 million, what raise will there be in domestic spending as well?”

On the floor, Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland said, “still significant items that are not resolved.” According to a House Democratic aide, most of the disagreement is around remaining provisions in the bill, and issues ranging from general consumer protections to international family planning remain as the lasting sticking points for Democrats.

Republicans already seem willing to concede to Democratic demands on bypassing wall funding altogether; Crowley said funding the wall “was no longer an issue” of debate in an interview Wednesday. And a Democratic aide close to leadership said Democrats seem satisfied with the White House’s assurances to continue making Obamacare subsidy payments.

Both Democratic and Republican aides say they are close to coming to an agreement. But unsurprisingly, Republicans seem more eager to close the deal than Democrats.

The White House took a harder line, then rolled it back

The White House once seemed more interested in a fight than congressional Republicans. Over recess, the administration took a harder line on the shutdown deadline, saying funding for the wall is a “must,” and Trump tweeted that Obamacare is in “serious trouble.” The president was seemingly hinting at a deal that Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney put on the table: an exchange of $1 for the insurance subsidy payments under Obamacare for every $1 given to the border wall. The offer didn’t sway Senate Democrats.

Then earlier in the week, a Democratic aide said Mulvaney told Rep. Pelosi that the White House could stop funding Obamacare’s subsidies as soon as next month, further escalating tensions over the omnibus bill Wednesday. Democrats want to include funding for the subsidies in the funding bill, which Speaker Ryan said he will not stand for. The White House rolled back its threat by Wednesday afternoon, enough to put Pelosi at ease.

Trump has continued to tweet angrily at Democrats over blocking border wall funding and pushing for Medicaid payments for Puerto Rico. Neither remain to be sticking points with appropriators on the Hill.

Outside of Trump’s grievances, it will be near-impossible for Republican leadership to sell all its spending concessions to the entirety of its conference — especially once conservatives realize just how much their party has to concede. The irony there is that the more Republican leadership realizes it will lose conservative votes in its own party, the more it will have to rely on Democrats to avoid a shutdown.