Senate budget delay raises possibility of brief shutdown at midnight

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi headed for a meeting with Democratic caucus members late Thursday.
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi headed for a meeting with Democratic caucus members late Thursday. (JIM LO SCALZO/EPA/Shutterstock)

WASHINGTON — Hours to a midnight shutdown deadline, congressional leaders scrambled to rally support for a sweeping half-trillion-dollar spending deal Thursday amid last-minute objections from a conservative in the Senate, and attacks from left and right in the House.

As opposition appeared to swell in the House and Senator Rand Paul, Republican from Kentucky, threw up last-minute roadblocks in the Senate, White House Office of Management and Budget spokesman John Czwartacki said ‘‘agencies are now being urged to review and prepare for lapse’’ in spending after midnight.

Paul, making use of Senate rules that give individual senators enormous power to slow down proceedings that often require the consent of all, demanded a vote on his amendment that would demonstrate how the two-year budget deal breaks past pledges to rein in federal spending.


‘‘I can’t in all good honesty, in all good faith, just look the other way because my party is now complicit in the deficits,’’ Paul said on the Senate floor as evening pushed into night, after objecting as Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, tried to move to a vote.

Get Ground Game in your inbox:
Daily updates and analysis on national politics from James Pindell.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Paul then launched into a lengthy floor speech deriding bipartisan complicity on deficit spending while the country goes ‘‘on and on and on finding new wars to fight that make no sense.’’ Paul predicted a ‘‘day of reckoning,’’ possibly in the form of the collapse of the stock market.

Senate leaders remained confident the spending deal would pass easily in the end. But absent an agreement among all senators on timing, final passage would be delayed until early Friday and the federal government could begin to shut down, at least briefly.

Even bigger problems appeared to be surfacing in the House, where liberals led by minority leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, were incensed that the plight of young undocumented immigrants who face the threat of deportation was not addressed in the spending bill.

Pelosi planned to vote against the bill, and despite initially suggesting that she would not be urging fellow Democrats to follow her lead, she increasingly appeared to be doing exactly that.


At a closed-door evening meeting of House Democrats, Pelosi told lawmakers: ‘‘We have a moment. They don’t have the votes. All of us should use our leverage. This is what we believe in,’’ according to one House Democrat in the room, who demanded anonymity to disclose the private conversation.

Pelosi is under intense pressure from immigrant activists and liberals in her caucus to take a stand for the ‘‘dreamers,’’ undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children who face losing work permits granted by former president Barack Obama but rescinded by President Trump.

Supporters of these immigrants have watched in growing outrage as Democrats have failed repeatedly to achieve results for the cause. They want to see Democrats stand strong, even after a three-day partial government shutdown over the issue last month failed to achieve more than a commitment from McConnell to debate the issue on the Senate floor.

But many House Democrats are skittish over forcing another shutdown after the last one failed to yield much, especially with Senate Democrats largely on board for the spending deal. Minority leader Charles Schumer, Democrat from New York, negotiated the package with McConnell, with input from Pelosi and Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican.

‘‘It’s split in there, but not everybody has expressed their point of view,’’ one lawmaker, Representative Jackie Speier, Democrat from California, said as she exited the House Democrats’ meeting late Thursday.


House conservatives were also balking, objecting to the enormous increase in federal spending, most of which would be piled onto the deficit with minimal attempts to offset it.

Earlier Thursday, Ryan expressed confidence that the bill, which delivers a military funding boost sought by the GOP alongside increases in domestic spending favored by Democrats, would pass.

‘‘There is widespread agreement in both parties that we have cut the military too much, that our service members are suffering as a result, and that we need to do better,’’ he said. But the outlook was growing cloudier as the evening wore on. Lawmakers and aides said planning was underway to pass a very short-term spending extension to keep the government open past midnight, if necessary.

If the larger spending bill does pass, its impact would be wide-ranging- renewing several large health care programs, suspending the national debt limit for a year, and extending billions of dollars of expiring business tax breaks. The cost of those provisions exceeds $560 billion, though lawmakers included some revenue-raising offsets, such as increases in customs fees and a sell-off from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

In comparison, the 2009 fiscal stimulus bill passed at the bottom of a global recession under Obama was estimated to cost $787 billion over 10 years. Republicans were nearly unanimous in opposing that measure in their clamor for fiscal restraint in the face of growing deficits — demands largely drowned out now in the Trump era.

This spending bill, proposed amid an economic boom, could be the last major piece of legislation passed before November’s midterm elections, barring a breakthrough on a thorny immigration debate.

In the House, Ryan, who wrote several deficit-cutting Republican budgets before becoming speaker, sought to tamp down fears that the bill could further explode the nation’s fiscal imbalance by amping up spending without spelling out offsetting cuts or revenue-raisers.

But the massive spending bill, coming less than two months after Republicans pushed through a tax cut that stands to slash federal revenue by a trillion dollars or more over a decade, has given plenty of Republicans heartburn.

The agreement includes an additional $160 billion in uncapped funding for overseas military and State Department operations, continuing a costly line item that dates back to the immediate response to the 2001 terrorist attacks. And about $90 billion more would be spent on disaster aid for victims of recent hurricanes and wildfires. Tax provisions would add another $17 billion to the cost of the bill.