Congress risks another shutdown as it struggles to nail down spending bill

  • Lawmakers have until midnight Friday to approve a spending bill or see the government's funding authority lapse for the third time this year.
  • Negotiations on legislation to fund the government through the end of September have slowed, despite Congress reaching a deal earlier this year setting spending levels.
  • Republicans and Democrats could push for some political wins in what might be their last spending fight before November's midterm elections.

Congress is staring down another government shutdown.

Lawmakers have until midnight Friday to approve a spending bill or see the government's funding authority lapse for the third time this year. Negotiations on the roughly $1.3 trillion legislation to fund the government through the end of September have slowed, despite Congress reaching a deal earlier this year setting spending levels.

Congress may create more last-minute fireworks this week as possible disagreements over both major parties' policy priorities loom. If lawmakers cannot release a spending bill early this week, they may have to pass yet another short-term funding bill to avoid a shutdown.

Republicans and Democrats could push for some political wins in what might be their last spending fight before November's midterm elections.

Leaders of both parties sought an agreement by Monday night, according to the Associated Press. That would set the stage for a House vote by Wednesday.

"I don't see a shutdown happening this week," Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chair of the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus, told reporters Monday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talks to reporters following the weekly policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol February 6, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talks to reporters following the weekly policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol February 6, 2018 in Washington, DC.

How we got here

Congress has already passed five stopgap spending bills during the current fiscal year amid squabbles over a longer-term agreement. Lawmakers finally broke through last month, when they approved a bill that would allow them to increase spending on defense and domestic programs by about $300 billion over two years. Funding at home would go to things such as improving infrastructure and fighting the opioid crisis.

Combined with massive tax cuts passed by Republicans last year, the budget plan could take deficits over $1 trillion during the next fiscal year.

The February measure did not actually allocate the money. Congress had another six weeks to craft legislation appropriating the money to agencies and programs.

Lawmakers have not yet released the so-called omnibus bill to fund the government. They could do so Monday night.

The government shut down once in January as Democrats sought assurances that Congress would move to pass a bill to protect hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation. It ended in its third day as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to have an open debate on immigration plans.

He eventually did so last month. But every Senate proposal failed, as President Donald Trump pushed for conditions Democrats deemed unacceptable. He wants stricter limits on family visa sponsorships and an end to the diversity visa "lottery," two goals most Democrats oppose.

Government funding lapsed again last month, if only for a few hours. While overall partisan gridlock contributed to the shutdown, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., took lawmakers over the brink as he single-handedly held up a Senate vote on a stopgap bill. Paul objected to the budget plan because it would set up massive increases for military spending and domestic programs championed by Democrats.

Congress eventually passed the budget proposal along with a continuing resolution to temporarily fund the government through Friday.

What's the problem now?

Some familiar sticking points for Congress, including immigration and health care, could emerge as issues this week.

The bill this week is unlikely to include any provisions to extend protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Trump ended in September with a six-month delay. The Trump administration floated pairing money for the president's proposed border wall with protections for the immigrants, but the idea fell flat. Court battles have left DACA in place, for now.

On Sunday, the White House offered a 30-month extension of DACA in exchange for $25 billion for Trump's proposed border wall, the AP reported. Democrats wanted protections for more immigrants than Republicans were willing to accept, so the request fell through.

Some Republicans have pushed for the bill to include more spending for immigration enforcement. Others want to add a provision that would allow the Trump administration to take funding away from so-called sanctuary cities. Democrats are unlikely to back either proposal.

The Affordable Care Act is also a sticking point. Some Democrats and Republicans want to include provisions to help lower health-care premium costs on Obamacare exchanges.

Conservatives have objected to what they call propping up the law they often criticize. Some Republicans also want to bar subsidies for insurers who cover abortion.

A push to revive the federal subsidies to help keep premium costs down appeared to be failing amid disagreement over the abortion provision, according to the AP.

Trump has also reportedly objected to a provision to put $900 million toward a rail tunnel project under the Hudson River. House Republicans in both New Jersey and New York could object to the spending bill if it does not include the funding meant to improve transportation into New York City.

Congressional leaders could release a spending proposal by Monday, leaving only a few days for lawmakers to both read it and hash out final disagreements.

WATCH: This is what happens when the U.S. government shuts down