With a deadline looming over a possible government shutdown -- current federal spending expires tomorrow at midnight -- House and Senate negotiators have been working on a compromise package for a while now. The plan was to wrap up a deal over the weekend. There were rumors the agreement would be released on Monday morning.
Which soon became Monday night. Then Tuesday morning. Finally, last night, as Suzy Khimm and Benjy Sarlin reported
, the bicameral compromise was unveiled.
House and Senate leaders have reached a bipartisan deal to avert a government shutdown, agreeing to fund most operations through September of next year. [...] Republicans won some significant victories in the deal: While most domestic spending remains flat, the spending bill cuts funding for the IRS and Environmental Protection Agency, and it guts a significant provision in the Dodd-Frank Act.
We'll explore some of these policy details later this morning -- the Wall Street Journal
had a handy round-up
of some of the package's highlights (or lowlights, depending on one's perspective) -- but for now let's focus on some of the procedural questions, because with one day remaining before the deadline, the overarching question is whether or not the government is going to shut down tomorrow at midnight.
The answer is, probably not, though success is hardly assured.
The way forward is largely consistent with what House Republican leaders had in mind all along: nearly all federal operations will be funded through the end of the fiscal year in September 2015. The exception is the Department of Homeland Security, which will be funded through February 2015, allowing GOP lawmakers another chance for a standoff over President Obama's immigration policy.
But -- and this is where things get a little tricky -- lawmakers took so long to pull this deal together that they may have to vote today or tomorrow to extend existing funding for just a few days, giving Congress time to jump through the procedural hoops and approve the compromise unveiled last night.
All of which leads to my favorite quote of the week.
If there's a temporary stopgap bill to keep the lights on for a few days, its success would be dependent on a unanimous agreement among senators to let the bill advance. If even one senator objects, a vote would be delayed, and at least for a short while, the government would shut down. Is there a senator would do this? We're not entirely sure, though everyone seems to be watching
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
One possible workaround would be for the House to pass a short-term continuing resolution lasting for a few days to avert a temporary lapse in funding. That might save some time, aides say, but even it would be subject to a debate that blows past the Thursday deadline. Senate Democrats are hoping Cruz doesn't go there. "[A]t that point, he's shutting down the government for a day, which seems insane even for him," one senior Senate Democratic aide said.
"Insane even for him" is a phrase that says so much.
It's worth noting that even House success is not a sure thing. The compromise package -- annoyingly called the "Cromnibus," combining "omnibus" and "CR" for continuing resolution -- doesn't make any real effort to derail the White House's immigration policy, so plenty of far-right lawmakers will be reluctant to support it. There are also plenty of conservative policy riders in the agreement, which may discourage House Democratic support.
That said, most Capitol Hill sources believe the deal will hold and a shutdown will be avoided. Probably. We think. Barring an 11th-hour surprise, which is always a possibility.
And while that may warrant a sigh of relief, I hope observers will pause to appreciate the absurdity of the situation. The House and Senate have agreed for months on the basic spending levels set in this spending package, and they still struggled to work out an agreement in time to avoid a shutdown.
Congressional dysfunction has reached a level in which we're relieved and pleasantly surprised when lawmakers stumble onto a dubious solution that keeps the government's lights on for nine months. What was once the most routine of legislative tasks is now a Sisyphean challenge.
If Congress is pleased with itself for reaching a bipartisan, bicameral deal, it's probably time to adjust its expectations and aim a little higher.