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Congress faces deadline, threat of shutdown over spending bill

WASHINGTON — The clock is ticking on federal lawmakers, who face a Friday deadline to craft a year-end spending bill that includes more money for President Donald Trump’s border wall — or face his threat of a partial government shutdown.

Trump indicated over the weekend that he would agree to an extension if lawmakers immediately seek more time to craft a final spending bill in order to observe a memorial and funeral for President George H.W. Bush this week.

But any delay only pushes back a deadline on lawmakers to pass a bill to fund homeland security and law enforcement programs, to name a few.

“We know we have a deadline to meet,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, warned. “If we don’t meet that deadline, then there will be a lot of lives disrupted.”

Republicans and Democrats spent the past week pointing fingers of blame over the potential shutdown, which lawmakers in neither party want.

And Democrats, who will control the House next year, are reluctant to provide more money for a wall that Trump once claimed would be paid for by Mexico.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, said he would not tear up a bipartisan Senate deal reached months ago to provide $1.6 billion for border security and a wall. And he rejected Trump’s demand for more wall money.

“If President Trump wants to throw a temper tantrum and shut down some departments and agencies over Christmas, that’s certainly within his power,” Schumer said. “It would be a shame if the country suffered because of a Trump temper tantrum.”

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., accused the president of “threatening to create another manufactured crisis, like he did with the Dreamers and separating families.”

“He should be working with Congress to achieve bipartisan results for Nevadans and fund critical agencies that serve them,” Cortez Masto said.

Republican Rep. Mark Amodei, Nevada’s only lawmaker on an appropriations committee, said through a spokeswoman that he would wait to comment on the bill until next week when it’s known what is in the spending package.

Lawmakers’ option

While the House and Senate have until Friday to pass a spending bill to fund several federal departments through next year, lawmakers could also pass a continuing resolution that would delay a decision over days, weeks or months, leaving funding at current levels.

If nothing is passed, a partial shutdown would have limited effect because roughly 75 percent of the government is funded through Sept. 30, 2019, under a spending bill passed by Congress and signed into law by Trump.

That bill included spending for the military, veterans care, energy and water and health and human services.

Nevada’s military installations, including Creech Air Force Base, Nellis Air Force Base and Naval Air Station Fallon, would continue operations, and military construction projects at those facilities would not be interrupted.

And veterans would not see any blips in programs or services at Nevada facilities.

A final spending bill is being negotiated to fund departments and agencies dealing with housing, agriculture, foreign affairs, homeland security, criminal justice and public lands.

Past shutdowns have interrupted operations at national parks and recreational areas in Nevada and Utah, though some operate on limited hours at this time of the year.

Regardless of the scope of a shutdown, some federal workers would be affected, and some services provided to taxpayers would cease until Congress either passes a spending bill or agrees to continue spending at current levels.

Border security

Senate Republicans and Democrats had agreed to $1.6 billion for border security and wall construction for fiscal year 2019, which began Oct. 1.

Trump has demanded Congress up that amount to $5 billion, and he is pressing lawmakers to pass a bill with the increased amount now while Republicans control both the House and Senate.

“We’re in negotiation,” Trump told reporters at the White House last week. “If we don’t get border security, possible shutdown.”

Senate Republicans have offered spreading $5 billion over two years, a proposal that has been rejected by Schumer, who said the president hasn’t tried to get Mexico to pay.

Schumer said the administration has yet to develop a plan or secure through eminent domain the land on which to build.

“And he hasn’t even spent the $1.3 billion Congress allocated last year,” Schumer said. “So this isn’t actually about border security, this is the president trying to manufacture a shutdown to fire up his base.”

Cornyn said that while Democrats have offered a lot of criticism about border security plans, they have offered no solutions, despite the caravan of Central American migrants and the situation that forced a border closure between San Diego and Tijuana.

Closed borders impede legitimate commerce between both countries. “We need to work together to fix our broken immigration system,” Cornyn said.

Protecting Mueller

Republicans need Democrat support in the Senate to reach a 60-vote threshold to advance legislation and pass a spending bill.

The GOP does not need Democratic support to pass the spending bill in the House, but Democratic leaders threw a wrench into the negotiations last week over the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., poised to be speaker in the 116th Congress, threatened to put language protecting special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation into the spending bill if GOP leaders continue to block a standalone bill from floor consideration.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have refused to consider bills to protect the investigation into Russian meddling and ties to the Trump campaign, despite bipartisan support for such a measure.

In the Senate, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who did not seek re-election, has blocked Trump judicial nominations from advancing in committee over GOP leadership refusal to consider the special counsel protection bill.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers see the negotiation and writing of a final spending bill as an opportunity to address recent emergencies, like in California, or spending requests for other projects or programs.

That concerns the Nevada delegation.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., who urged House leaders not to allow any last-minute funding in the bill that would revive the licensing process on the Department of Energy’s application to build a permanent nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.

And Cortez Masto and Senator-elect Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., sent similar letter to Senate leaders.

The Nevada congressional delegation was successful in getting funding requests by the Trump administration and the House for Yucca Mountain licensing stripped out of the final spending bill for energy.

Trump signed that spending bill into law on Sept. 21.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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