The Slatest

A Government Shutdown Just Got Much More Likely

Let's do this.
Let’s do this.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

The House plans to vote Thursday night on a bill that would fund the government for four weeks, reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years, and delay a few Obamacare taxes. It’s going to be a nail-biter. But if Senate Democrats, and a few Republicans, mean what they say, then the House vote won’t matter. Unless some senators go back on their word, the government will shut down Friday night.

The Senate does not currently have 60 votes to break a filibuster of the House bill. As of this writing, nine of the 18 Democrats and independents who voted for the previous short-term funding bill in December have declared their opposition to the House bill. Plenty of others are leaning against it or haven’t come out publicly. (So far, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin is the only Senate Democrat who is openly leaning toward voting for it.) On the Republican side, two senators who voted against the last short-term bill, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Utah Sen. Mike Lee, are not expected to flip their votes, while South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds will also vote “no.”

The last continuing resolution got 66 votes in the Senate. This one won’t get 60, and it might not even get 50.

A handful of senators in either party have been discussing an even shorter-term bill, one that funds the government for a few days, giving negotiators a little more time to strike the DACA agreement that’s key to unlocking the rest of the clogged-up agenda. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, though, flatly said “no” to questions about there was any chance of doing a shorter-term plan as a backup. Senate Republicans think that if House Republicans can pass a bill and then mostly Senate Democrats block it, they can make Democrats own the shutdown. If Cornyn isn’t bluffing and neither are the senators who have come out against the proposal, and the House bill really is the only game in town, then there will be a shutdown.

Another possibility: Someone’s bluffing?

What Senate Democrats would well and truly love is for the bill to die in the House. Then blame for the shutdown could more crisply be tied to Republicans, who couldn’t even get a bill out of the chamber they unquestionably rule, and would spare Senate Democrats from having to vote. (Several Senate Democrats up for re-election, like Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, aren’t saying how they would vote until the House result is clear.) It’s possible Senate Democrats have been playing up the dead-ness of the House bill to lessen its chances of passing the House in the first place. They’ll sweat a bit more if the House is successful.

The House picture remains unclear. Republican leadership is expressing confidence that it will pass. Meanwhile, House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows believes that there are enough Freedom Caucus members to block the bill unless changes are made. “I promise you,” Meadows told reporters after an early afternoon vote series, “that [Ryan] doesn’t have the votes.” Ryan could have commitments from some vulnerable Democrats who can’t resist the allure of the six-year CHIP extension. But it would not be of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s nature to allow deciding votes to slip away on such a critical measure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has informed members to clear their weekend schedules.