Lawmakers are stalemate over a proposed GOP amendment that would change a border policy from the Trump administration. This could force Democrats to take a vote that would be hard for them politically.
Senators left the Capitol on Wednesday night without a deal that would let them vote on a $1.7 trillion funding package for the government. This pushed the vote to Thursday and brought closer the deadline for a shutdown.
Lawmakers are stalemate over a proposed GOP amendment that would change a border policy from the Trump administration. This could force Democrats to take a vote that would be hard for them politically. It’s a 180-degree turn from earlier in the day when Senate leaders hoped that the strong desire to go home for the holidays would speed up the passage of the massive bill on Wednesday. This would be the last thing on the Senate’s list of things to do before the end of the year, and it would mean that the Senate would leave Washington until late January.
Even though federal money doesn’t run out until Friday at midnight, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has threatened to back a temporary funding patch until early next year if the upper chamber doesn’t pass the giant spending package by Thursday.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said, “Right now, we don’t have an exit plan.” She planned to go home and unpack her suitcase in case she missed her flight to Alaska on Thursday morning. But there were still minor signs that a deal could still be made. About an hour and a half, after senators went home empty-handed, Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said, “There has been some progress.”
“I wouldn’t say it’s a breakthrough yet, but things are getting better,” Thune said. “But if they lock something up… I think voting could start in the morning of tomorrow.” The biggest problem comes from a proposed amendment by Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee. The amendment ties funding for the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Executive Secretary to the Biden administration keeping Title 42, or Trump-era border restrictions, in place.
Democrats had said that Lee could vote on his amendment if he got 60 votes. But senators and their staff said they are still arguing about Lee and other Republicans’ plan to lower the number of votes needed to pass a bill to 51.
Lee went off in a series of tweets, saying that Democrats were “terrified” of giving him a vote at the lower threshold because it was likely to get enough Democratic support to be added to the year-end spending bill. Due to the tight margins in the Senate, all the Republicans would need is the vote of one Democratic senator.
“The Democrats won’t let us vote on an amendment to keep Title 42 because they got everything they wanted in this 4,155-page monster. Why? Because it will end, which scares them because they want chaos at the border,” Lee wrote on Twitter.
A Democrat in the Senate said that Lee’s change was a “poison pill” that would “kill the omnibus.” The aide didn’t say that Democrats couldn’t develop a counter-proposal to protect their members. He just said that talks are still going on. In that case, both amendments would fail, but senators would have a place to land and a way out of the deadlock.
After leaving a meeting in Schumer’s office, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said that they are “working on a path” that will hopefully “get things done in the Senate as soon as possible.”We need a bus that goes everywhere. “That’s very important,” Stabenow said, calling Lee’s change a “poison pill” that would make it hard for the House to pass the omnibus bill.
Because of the situation at the border, several Democrats in the House would likely vote for the language to keep the policy from the Trump administration. But dozens of liberals in the caucus would likely rebel, which could blow up the bipartisan spending bill.
Some Democrats even said behind closed doors on Wednesday night that the House might have to vote on the spending bill first to avoid the drama at the border, but no official plans had been made as party leaders talked about how to move forward.
GOP senators said Wednesday night that if there isn’t a deal to vote on the funding bill, McConnell is more likely to follow through on his threat and back a short-term spending fix until early next year, when Republicans have more power with a House majority.
“Senator McConnell has said he’s for a [continuing resolution] into next year if we don’t pass an omnibus bill by tomorrow, so it looks like we’re headed for a CR,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a close ally of McConnell’s.
Cornyn said that Republicans could leave if Schumer tried to move forward with the omnibus bill. This would leave Schumer without enough votes to move the bill forward. When asked about his deadline on Thursday, McConnell made a joke and said, “That’s tomorrow.”
Murkowski also said that the deadlock makes it more likely that there will be a short-term funding fix instead of the giant package that would boost the budgets of federal agencies for the whole fiscal year. “Is that what you want to happen? As someone who has worked hard to get things done for the year, Murkowski, who worked on the bill, said that this was not the result she would have liked.