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The Three Biggest Reasons the Government Might Shut Down This Month

The government is due to run out of money on Friday. What happens next?
Clouds fill the sky in front of the U.S. Capitol on October 7th, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

Clouds fill the sky in front of the U.S. Capitol on October 7th, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

On Friday, the United States government will run out of money and be forced to shut down, unless Congress passes (and the president signs) legislation funding the government. For months, ever since President Donald Trump struck a deal with the Democrats back in September on a three-month funding deal, Republican leadership in Congress has been promising that the government will not shut down on their watch.

"There's not going to be a government shutdown," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) promised in an interview last weekend. "It's just not going to happen."

But keeping such a promise may be easier said than done. In a sign of just how difficult these negotiations are likely to be, Republicans have already run into problems. Prior to this week, the GOP was laying plans to pass a two-week stopgap bill that would fund the government until December 22nd. On Monday, a number of conservatives in the House of Representatives temporarily (and quite dramatically) withheld their support for an unrelated procedural vote to send the House's tax reform legislation to conference in order to protest leadership's plan; the Freedom Caucus politicians are pushing for a bill that runs through December 30th, a date which they believe gives Democrats less leverage.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) is reportedly not planning to cave to conservatives' demands on timing, but leadership has promised conservatives it will not cut any deals with Democrats to get the votes needed to pass the spending legislation. This promise may only serve to further complicate matters since the spending agreement will require support from at least eight Senate Democrats. Government funding deals are never easy, but this time around Republicans seem to be facing an unusually broad array of complicated and politically sensitive policy challenges. Below, we've rounded up the three factors that we think are most likely to force a shutdown this month.

The Dreamers

This is perhaps the biggest, most dramatic, and visible issue at stake this month. Republican leadership has been adamant that a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals fix should be both separate from a spending bill and does not need to be completed before the end of the year. In a recent interview, McConnell echoed that stance, saying: "There's no crisis. There's no emergency. The president has given us until March to address it."

Democrats, however, fear that, without the leverage of a government shutdown, a DACA fix may never materialize. A number of Democrats in both the Senate and the House have said they will not vote to fund the government into 2018 if DACA is not fixed by the end of the year. Further complicating matters for the GOP is the fact that their own caucus is divided. While conservatives are opposed to attaching a DACA fix to a spending bill, a group of 34 moderate Republicans recently sent a leader to leadership demanding a DACA fix by the end of the year.

Health Care (Again)

In order to lock down Senator Susan Collins' (R-Maine) vote on the tax reform bill that passed the Senate last week, McConnell and Trump committed to supporting two bills aimed at stabilizing the Affordable Care Act's non-group markets and mitigating the effects of repealing the individual mandate. Collins, a moderate who cast an important vote against ACA repeal over the summer, has made clear that she wants those bills to pass before she casts her final vote for tax reform; on Monday, she told reporters she expects the bills will be attached to the longer-term spending bill Republicans hope to pass later this month.

Here, once again, the GOP is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Conservatives have expressed opposition to both bills, and Ryan has not committed to supporting the legislation. Technically, the GOP can still pass tax reform without Collins' vote, but there's little room for error: If just one additional senator defects in addition to Collins, tax reform will fail.

Donald Trump

And, of course, there's the president himself. Last week, Trump's impulsive tweets led Nancy Pelosi (R-California) and Chuck Schumer (R-New York) to cancel a planned meeting to discuss a spending package. The two Democrats are scheduled to once again meet with Trump, Ryan, and McConnell to discuss a deal on Thursday.

Trump remains a wild card. While most Republicans believe a shutdown would be politically damaging—since the party currently controls the White House, Senate, and House—Trump reportedly holds a different view. Last week, the Washington Post reported that Trump has "told confidants that a government shutdown could be good for him politically and is focusing on his hard-line immigration stance as a way to win back supporters unhappy with his outreach to Democrats this fall."