House, Senate negotiators reach milestone on spending package, Trump position remains unclear

The passage of a continuing resolution last week to keep government operating until Dec. 21 gave congressional negotiators breathing room to come to an agreement on the next step to passing spending bills to keep the government going for what's left of fiscal year 2020. They've agreed to the apportionment of funds to a wide range of government agencies and programs, with a glaring exception: Trump's border wall.

With this agreement between House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby, the rest of the appropriators can get to work hammering out the agreements for the 12 appropriations bills that would need to be passed by Dec. 20. The levels agreed to reflect the new budget agreement Congress reached over the summer, which increases defense spending by $22 billion and nondefense spending by $27 billion over existing 2019 budget levels.

So the first problem this faces is that there's still no agreement on how Trump is going to get the additional $5 billion he wants for a border wall. The second problem is getting 12 bills passed by Congress and signed by Trump by Dec. 20, when Congress is officially in Thanksgiving recess until Dec. 3. The third problem is impeachment, which may or may not be voted on in the House in those 17 days before funding runs out again. The border wall and impeachment are the triggers for Trump.

But there's a potentially bigger problem: a disengaged Trump who seems to be allowing Mick Mulvaney to do the driving. Mulvaney, apparently speaking for Trump, wants a budget freeze. The Mulvaney part of the White House wants a yearlong continuing resolution that prevents that $49 billion increase in spending that the White House agreed to last summer from actually happening. And if that's the case, the question is what Mitch McConnell's Senate is going to do.

Arguing on the side of getting the deal done with the House is increased defense spending, which Republican senators love. Arguing on the side of scuttling the deal and another year of operating on continuing resolutions is everything else—particularly Trump.

Senate passes funding for another month of government operations, bill goes to Trump

The government won’t shut down Thursday night at midnight, as the Senate approved a stop-gap bill Thursday, 74-20. This continuing resolution will keep government operating until December 20 at midnight, provided a raging Donald Trump signs it. There’s no indication from the White House that he is considering vetoing it, and he’ll undoubtedly hear from Republican senators lunching with him Thursday that he needs to sign it.

The work could have been done Wednesday, since the House passed the bill on Tuesday, but procedural headaches had the Senate considering amending the bill and forcing the House to take it up again. Senate Republicans reportedly “worried that the vehicle, a fiscal 2020 package used by the House for the short-term spending measure, would complicate the path to a conference committee on the larger funding bills later this year.” But the imminent deadline of midnight Thursday for funding drying up, and the possibility that hours of floor time would be involved in changing it made them decide just to take the House bill as is. 

That sets up the next funding battle. Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell say that they intend to have regular appropriations completed before this current continuing resolution expires before Christmas. The House has passed 10 of the 12 bills and the Senate has passed 4, but the chambers have not reached agreement on any of them. The largest sticking point in an overall agreement is the usual one: Trump’s border wall. The House has no funding for it. The Senate includes $5 billion in Homeland Security funding and allows Trump to reallocate an additional $3.6 billion from military funds.

House passes stopgap funding until Dec. 20 to avert shutdown. Next up: Senate and White House

The House passed a continuing resolution Tuesday, 231-192, to keep government funded until Dec. 20, in hopes that by that time negotiators among the House, Senate, and White House will be able to come to an agreement on spending in all 12 appropriations bills that will fund the government fully for fiscal year 2020. Which started two months ago.

The White House said of this short-term agreement after it was released Monday afternoon, "We need to review all the details of the CR, but are heartened that at first blush it does not appear to contain provisions which impede the President’s ability to pursue his policies, or other items which could impair the ability of the President to sign it by Thursday night." At this point, Trump seems to be onboard.

The short-term bill contains some add-ons beyond just a continuation of current funding levels. It has $7.3 billion in spending authority for the Census Bureau to gear up for next year's count. It also increases military pay by 3.1%, and temporarily extends three Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provisions set to expire Dec. 15 through March 20, 2020. It also renews a number of expiring health care programs that have to keep being temporarily revived, including funding for community health centers and teaching hospitals. It also blocks a looming $7.6 billion rescission of highway funding scheduled to happen next July.  

The Senate has until midnight Thursday to pass it and get Trump to sign it. Then we do this all again in a month—when they can't put off fighting over the border wall anymore, and impeachment will still have Trump raging.