WASHINGTON – Testing the resolve of Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared Sunday there won’t be a government shutdown this week over the question of protecting immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, describing it as a “non-emergency” to be addressed next year.
“There’s not going to be a government shutdown. It’s just not going to happen,” said McConnell, R-Ky.
House GOP leaders unveiled a short-term plan over the weekend to avert a shutdown and keep the government open through Dec. 22. The measure would buy time for bipartisan talks on a bigger budget agreement that would give the Pentagon and government agencies significant relief from a pending budget freeze.
Congress faces a Friday deadline to fund the government through the end of next September.
Democrats and a few Republicans have suggested they may not vote for government funding without the protections for tens of thousands of young immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” who are currently protected by an Obama administration program. That program is set to expire in March.
Meanwhile, some Republicans are divided over what programs the government should pay for, and how much.
GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida has joined Democrats on the immigration issue, while Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said he received commitments from party leaders and the administration to work with him on restoring “Dreamer” protections in exchange for his vote early Saturday on the tax overhaul bill.
President Donald Trump backs the immigration safeguards despite issuing an executive order reversing the Obama-era protections, officially called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
Talks on a budget agreement are likely to restart this week after a setback last week when top Democrats pulled out of a meeting with Trump after he attacked them on Twitter.
On Sunday, McConnell insisted the GOP-controlled Congress will be able to keep the government running, calling the demand for action on DACA by year’s end “ridiculous.”
“I don’t think the Democrats would be very smart to say they want to shut down the government over a non-emergency that we can address anytime between now and March,” McConnell said. “There is no crisis.”
Still, Republicans are not entirely unified, with GOP conservatives concerned they are being set up for a massive pre-Christmas spending deal they won’t like. That raises the likelihood that some Democratic votes will be needed to approve new funding to keep the government open.
On Sunday, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney was equivocal about shutdown prospects, but said he didn’t think it would happen even with a “broken” system of spending.
“It’s funny to see now that the Republicans are in charge I think there’s a group of right-wingers in the House who say they want to shut the government down. There’s a group of Democrats who want to shut the government down over DACA. And there’s a group of lawmakers from some of the hurricane states who want to shut the government down until they get what they want,” he said.
“This just sheds light on the fact that the appropriations, the spending system is broken when any little group can sort of hold the government hostage. We need to get beyond that,” Mulvaney added.
The proposal from House GOP leaders also contains a short-term fix to prevent several states from running out of money to operate a popular program that provides health care to children from low-income families. The Children’s Health Insurance Program’s authorization ran out Oct. 1 and states have been limping along using carry over funding since then.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., says the new stopgap funding measure “will allow for additional time for a deal to be reached on top-line spending levels for this fiscal year. Once this agreement is made, my committee will rapidly go to work with the Senate to complete the final legislation.”
Separately, McConnell expressed confidence that House and Senate negotiators will work out differences on the tax overhaul bill after the Senate approved its version on a narrow 51-49 vote early Saturday. Acknowledging the plan won’t provide a tax cut to all middle-class families, McConnell said it was “impossible” to craft legislation that could guarantee that.
“What I can tell you is that every segment of taxpayers, every category of taxpayers on average gets significant relief,” McConnell said.
Trump appeared to inject uncertainty into the tax plan over the weekend, when he suggested Saturday he may be willing to negotiate changes to the corporate tax rate, setting it at 22 percent compared with the 20 percent rate that he has pushed for with House and Senate Republicans.
But on Sunday, Mulvaney downplayed Trump’s comments, saying he didn’t expect “any significant change in our position on the corporate taxes.”
McConnell spoke on ABC’s “This Week” and CBS’ “Face the Nation,” and Mulvaney also appeared on CBS.