As Shutdown Clock Ticks, Senate to Take Up Four Spending Bills

With appropriators behind schedule, longtime budget pundit fears clash over Trump’s border wall.

With 12 legislative days left in the fiscal year, the top leaders of Congress met with President Trump on Wednesday to discuss funding the government next year, the upshot being that the Senate is set this week to take up a “minibus” of four of the government’s 12 spending bills.

With mid-term elections looming and Congress confronting a full plate of issues, the move comes as budget process observers worry about prospects for another government shutdown.

“We made significant headway” on the fiscal 2019 appropriations bills, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Thursday. He thanked Democrats for their “cooperation” on the motions to debate the four bills and “finding sufficient time for funding the government—something not often achieved—with some semblance of regular order,” he said.

If the Senate approves those four, that would bring to seven the total passed by both chambers.

Both the House and Senate have passed and sent to conference the bills to fund Military Veterans; Energy and Water; and Interior and the Legislative Branch. The House has also passed those for Defense and for Interior and the Environment.

The House is set to recess on Friday, July 27, to return on Sept. 4 with just weeks until the government’s funding runs out on Sept. 30 absent a continuing resolution. The Senate was originally scheduled to remain in Washington until Aug. 3 before recessing until Sept. 4. But McConnell in early June announced that he would keep the senators in town, except for the week of Aug. 6.

In increasingly urgent commentary, longtime budget analyst Stan Collender on Wednesday titled  his The Budget Guy blog, “This Is Why Trump Will Shut Down the Government.” He noted that “the GOP leadership should want to avoid a shutdown so the Republican representatives and senators running for reelection can get home to campaign and hold fundraisers instead of being stuck in Washington voting on inane matters.”

But the past may not be prologue in this case, he suggested. “Trump is more about Trump than House and Senate Republicans. He wants Congress to appropriate the full amount for the wall he wants to build between the U.S. and Mexico, and he very likely sees the GOP leadership’s strong desire to get its members out of town as soon as possible as increased leverage to get that.”

And given the possibility that Democrats could take one or both chambers in the election, Collender said, “Trump may well view this as his last chance to get his wall . . . And as if that wasn’t enough, Trump may well view a shutdown over the wall as the best way he’ll be able to enrage, inflame and energize his base over immigration this fall.”