The immediate threat of a government shutdown is all but gone for now. But it will return with a vengeance soon.
Once a high-stakes confrontation over Planned Parenthood, the government funding fight dissipated with Speaker John Boehner’s surprising resignation announcement Friday, which removed any doubt that he would tee up a clean spending bill on the House floor this week.
But the glide path to avoiding a shutdown this week sets up an even bigger clash in December, when lawmakers have to agree on a new funding bill for the new fiscal year. Democrats at both ends of the Capitol, as well as in the White House, will demand raising the current caps for domestic spending. But hawkish Republicans have long insisted on boosting cash for defense programs, while fiscal conservatives will abhor any additional spending overall.
The outcome of that funding fight is far from certain. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she had no agreement with Boehner in his twilight weeks beyond a short-term funding bill this week.
“Sept. 30, the fiscal year ends,” Pelosi told CNN’s “State of the Union” in an interview that aired Sunday. “We have to have a continuing resolution to take us forward as we prepare for our omnibus bill, which will take us through the next year.”
Congress seems to have avoided a crisis for now. The Senate will make the first move to steer Congress away from a shutdown, with a key procedural vote Monday evening on a bill that would fund the government through Dec. 11 and not strip money from the women’s health group. Senate Democratic and GOP leadership aides said Sunday there would be no issue clinching the 60 votes needed to advance the short-term spending bill.
After final passage of that stopgap measure in the Senate — likely no later than Tuesday night — the House will follow suit and send the bill to President Barack Obama for his signature, just in time to avert the second federal government shutdown since 2013.
When asked Sunday during CBS’ “Face the Nation” whether the government will shut down, Boehner replied: “No.”
Boehner acknowledged he’ll have to tap Democratic support for the bill but added: “I expect my Democrat colleagues want to keep the government open as much as I do.”
Instead, House Republicans are diverting their energy into ramping up investigations into whether Planned Parenthood profited from sales of fetal tissue — allegations stemming from a series of undercover sting videos that have roiled the right. The House GOP announced over the weekend it will establish a select committee to probe the accusations, which drew immediate condemnation from Democrats that Republicans were launching yet another “Benghazi-style” panel.
Republican leaders have also said the House will vote on more measures restricting abortion, while drafting a reconciliation measure to defund Planned Parenthood. On Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will take up a reconciliation bill that bars funding for the women’s health group for one year and a public health fund established under Obamacare.
Reconciliation is an appealing procedural weapon for the GOP-controlled Capitol, since it can sidestep a filibuster in the Senate and send a bill straight to Obama. However, reconciliation rules in the Senate are more complicated, and GOP leaders there have not yet indicated whether they’ll follow suit and use the procedural tool to strip funding from Planned Parenthood.
Some House conservatives weren’t appeased by the leadership’s strategy when it was unveiled last week, lobbying instead to push the funding fight to the brink of a shutdown. But they were resigned to the fact that a spending bill without Planned Parenthood restrictions was inevitable.
“There may be some sympathy [Republican] votes in favor of it, but I can’t imagine it’s very many,” Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) said of a clean funding bill shortly after Boehner announced his resignation.
Indeed, Democrats are likely to provide the lion’s share of votes to keep the government open beyond Wednesday. Republicans oppose the stopgap measure for reasons beyond money for Planned Parenthood, which was clear last week when the Senate tried to advance a bill defunding the group and a clutch of moderate and conservative Republicans voted against it.
For instance, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) rejected last week’s continuing resolution, even with the Planned Parenthood restrictions, because he believes the current level of spending overall is too high. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), one of the most hawkish members of the Senate, did too, saying military spending was shortchanged under the current spending caps.
Still other Republicans insist that not a penny of federal funding go to Planned Parenthood.
“I think Congress has a clear duty to evaluate all federal programs and fund what we think is worthy and not fund what we don’t think worthy,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said last week. “We don’t have an imperial president. He asks for funding, and we say yes to some and no to others.”