The Slatest

The Government Will Shut Down Because Rand Paul Is Mad

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 08:  U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) participates in a TV interview outside his office at Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill February 8, 2018 in Washington, DC. Sen. Paul made a move to block a budget deal Thursday as the government will run out of funding at midnight for seeking to vote on an amendment to restore budget caps.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 08: U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) participates in a TV interview outside his office at Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill February 8, 2018 in Washington, DC. Sen. Paul made a move to block a budget deal Thursday as the government will run out of funding at midnight for seeking to vote on an amendment to restore budget caps. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Alex Wong/Getty Images

It is nearly midnight, at which time federal appropriations are scheduled to lapse, and the dang budget bill hasn’t even gotten out of the Senate. A single senator, Kentucky’s Rand Paul, is throwing a fit. Once procedural rules terminate his fit, sometime after midnight, the Senate should swiftly pass the budget deal. Then it will go to the House, where a sloppy vote may or may not result in majority support.

So, will the government be open when you go to work on Friday? Probably.

Paul, who does not really believe in government spending, is mad about the two-year budget deal blowing past spending caps to the tune of $300 billion dollars. He is making a number of strong points about how members of his own party, who rail on about the deficit when a Democrat is president but who are about to produce permanent trillion-dollar annual deficits, are full of it. But the revenge he is exacting, by denying unanimous consent requests to move to a cloture vote, is just keeping everyone up a few more hours.

If I weren’t a reporter charged with covering this, I would find it very funny. His colleagues hate him, so much. One after another, senators come into the chamber trying to get unanimous content to move to the vote, and he just sits there on the floor objecting. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, at one point, called for unanimous consent after Paul had ducked into the cloakroom just off the floor. An aide ran in and grabbed Paul so he could come out and object. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell left the building around 8 p.m.

The Senate will get to its vote eventually and easily pass the deal.

Then things will get interesting. In the House, there was confusion throughout the day about what Democratic leaders’ strategy will be. Do they want to block the deal unless they get a commitment from Ryan to hold a neutral floor debate on protecting Dreamers? Or do they just want to show the base that they tried to save the Dreamers, while privately hoping that the bill passes without many of their votes?

Democrats held a caucus meeting at 4:30 p.m. that lasted roughly two hours. Most members came out saying they would vote “no,” but insisted that Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi wasn’t pressuring them to do so.

Kentucky Rep. John Yarmouth, the Budget Committee ranking member, said he would vote “yes.” He made the point that a lot of members are thinking, but don’t want to say out loud: If House Republicans put up 160 or 170 votes on a bipartisan budget deal—a deal that Democrats, on the deal’s merits, really like, by the way—and House Democrats can’t put up the rest, Democrats will be blamed for the shutdown. If Republicans need 75 Democratic votes, he said, they may not get it. What if they need 40? I asked. Then, he said, they could probably swing it.

During my dinner break, I saw Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, the most vocal advocate for Dreamers in the United States Congress, at a pizza restaurant. He was taking pictures with a couple of Dreamers. He expected the deal would pass with 50 or 60 Democratic votes. With their leverage on must-pass legislation eliminated, he worried, the cost for securing protections for Dreamers in the coming weeks would soar. He is fine giving Trump money for his stupid wall. But he won’t vote to break families apart.

Jim Newell

Jim Newell is a Slate staff writer.