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- The government will shut down at 12:01 a.m. if Congress does not pass a funding bill.
- Senate leaders have agreed to a sweeping budget deal, but Sen. Rand Paul has held up a vote.
- It also remains unclear whether the bill has enough votes to pass the House, as members of both parties have expressed concerns about it.
Congress scrambled on Thursday — hours before the government is set to enter a partial shutdown — as leaders looked to spearhead a massive two-year budget deal through both chambers.
The deal would extend the current level of federal funding until March 23, allowing congressional appropriators time to craft the details of a longer-term plan. It would also bump limits on defense and nondefense spending by just under $300 billion combined over the next two years.
But the bill has hit some unexpected snags as Congress races toward the deadline.
In the Senate, Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, has held up a vote, saying he is withholding his support for a procedural step to allow the chamber to move toward a vote on the bill.
Paul insisted in December that he would not vote for any “budget-busting” spending bill. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the agreement will add more than $300 billion to the federal deficit over 10 years.
“We think when Democrats are in charge, the Republicans are the conservative party,” Paul said in an interview on Fox News. “The problem is when Republicans are in charge, there’s no conservative party, and that’s kind of where we are now.”
He added: “Someone has to stand up and say, ‘You should spend what comes in, we should balance our ledger.’ That used to be what it meant to be conservative, but a lot of so-called conservatives lose their mind once it becomes a partisan thing.”
Paul said he wanted to vote on an amendment to maintain the current budget caps, the antithesis of the deal that would likely fail, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled he will not hold such a vote.
On the Senate floor, McConnell attempted to move forward with the vote via a parliamentary procedure but was rebuffed by Paul.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also chastised Paul, saying that opening the bill to amendments would further delay the process as other members attempted to add changes and likely push the government into a funding lapse.
If Paul continues his objection, he could hold up a vote until about 1 a.m. ET, one hour after the government is set to shut down.
While there technically would be no federal funding, a short lapse wouldn’t be a full-blown shutdown, which is triggered when the Office of Management and Budget sends a memo to federal agencies to initiate their shutdown plans.
Sen. John Cornyn, the second-highest-ranking Senate Republican, told reporters that leadership was working toward a solution with Paul.
“I think it will all work out, but it’s up in the air,” Cornyn said.
It’s unclear whether the budget deal can pass the House.
Much like Paul, many House Republicans are concerned about the bill’s projected effect on the deficit. The hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus has said most of its roughly 30 members will vote against the legislation.
Recent reports suggest that as many as 70 Republicans in the chamber could vote against the bill.
Democrats, meanwhile, have qualms about the deal because it does not address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program, which is set to end early next month.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she would not vote for the bill absent a commitment from House Speaker Paul Ryan to hold an open vote on a DACA solution.
Pelosi also sent a letter to her colleagues saying that while the budget deal secured positive domestic spending goals, the lack of a DACA deal meant she would vote against it.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, the Democratic Whip and second-highest ranking member in the House, asked Ryan to consider a short-term funding bill called a continuing resolution to prevent a midnight shutdown.
“I urge Speaker Ryan to the Floor a one-day funding bill to keep the government open,” Hoyer said in a statement. “Given that the Senate still has not passed its bipartisan agreement because Senate Republicans are feuding, time is running short for them to keep the government’s lights on.”
While Democratic leadership is telling members to vote against the bill, some Democrats, especially more moderate members, are expected to vote for it.