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Government Shutdown Looms Amid Confusion in Congress

Speaker Paul Ryan thinks the Democrats are bluffing – but a deal in Congress to keep the government open remains out of reach

Paul Ryan, Government Shutdown Looms Unless Someone Blinks

House Speaker Paul Ryan Ryan tried to sweeten the package for moderates and some liberals by including a six-year extension for the Children's Health Insurance Program, he's now facing protests from his right flank from members demanding that the GOP increase funding for the Department of Defense.

Eric Thayer/Redux

There are a few high stakes games of chicken being played simultaneously on Capitol Hill, and, as of now, neither side is signaling a willingness to back down. On Wednesday, Democratic leaders said the vast majority of their party would oppose another short term spending bill unless Republicans agree to a permanent fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. “My understanding of our Democratic consensus is that really the only leverage we have to protect the Dreamers right now is to say ‘No’ on the spending bill,” Democratic Rep. Don Beyer tells Rolling Stone. “We don’t want to shut the government down, but these 800,000 kids who were raised here and are as American as your kids and mine are at risk of getting sent back to wherever they came from as small children unless we fix it.”  

On the right, Speaker Paul Ryan thinks Democrats are bluffing. He’s planning to bring a short term spending bill to the floor Thursday that will keep the government funded for a month – the fourth such bill he’ll have brought to the floor in the past four months. To sweeten the package for moderates and some liberals, Ryan even included a six-year extension for the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

But there’s another side to the fight that’s gotten little attention this week: the far-right members of the House Freedom Caucus, led by Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who are demanding increased defense funding as part of a deal to keep the government open. “My understanding is leadership is going to put [the spending bill] on the floor regardless of whether they have the votes or not,” Meadows told Rolling Stone yesterday. “So, if that’s the case, I guess, the day of reckoning will come.”

But other GOP leaders, notably Sen. Lyndsey Graham, who has been leading talks on the immigration deal, said a hike in Pentagon spending is unlikely this week. “At the end of the day, I don’t see how we get Defense spending increases without dealing with DACA,” Republican Sen. Lyndsey Graham told reporters at the Capitol. “They’re sitting around acting like there’s only one party. There’s two parties.”

Last week Trump and Democrats reached the broad contours of the DACA debate – laying out four pillars, including border security and reforming the visa lottery program. But it seems the goal posts have moved. “I’m looking for something that President Trump supports, and he’s not yet indicated what measure he’s willing to sign,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters at the Capitol Wednesday. “As soon as we figure out what he is for then I would be convinced that we were not just spinning our wheels going to this issue on the floor but actually dealing with a bill that has a chance to become law and therefore solve the problem.”

That comment confused Dick Durbin, the Senate’s number two Democrat who, along with Graham, has taken the lead on the immigration negotiations. He was there when Trump agreed to the four planks last week – so why are the final terms still up for debate among the president and Republican members of congress? “If he doesn’t know,” Durbin tells Rolling Stone of of the president’s position, “it’s hard for me to know.”

All of which has cast an air of uncertainty over Congress. Final votes on Ryan’s spending bill are scheduled for around 7 p.m. tonight, with members still unsure whether the week will end with a quick fix, an immigration deal, a battle over the Pentagon’s budget, or a shuttered federal government. “What’s happened over the past week has not been good for America.” Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana told reporters Wednesday. “A lot of Americans are…scratching their heads and saying, ‘We didn’t know that the Jerry Springer show was in syndication.”

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