Nobody In Washington Knows What’s Going On With Budget Negotiations

With the Friday night deadline fast approaching, nobody in Washington seems to know what's going on.

With just four days to go until the government runs out of spending authority, nobody in Washington seems to know what to do, and the biggest mystery appears to be the man in the Oval Office:

Sitting in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office Monday evening, senior Senate Republicans had no answer to a basic question: What would President Donald Trump sign to avoid a partial government shutdown?

Attendees said there is an array of options to avoid a partial shutdown over Trump’s demands for $5 billion for his border wall, but GOP lawmakers are in the dark about what the President would actually sign.

“I don’t know of a specific plan yet,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, said as he left McConnell’s office.

Asked if Trump would sign a short-term measure to punt the fight into January, Cornyn was still at a loss.

“I’ve heard that mentioned,” Cornyn said of a short-term funding bill. “But I don’t know if the President would sign it.”

With just four days to go until funding runs out for a major section of the government, including the Department of Homeland Security, Republicans are growing impatient — and concerned — about the lack of strategy from the White House.

GOP negotiators have worked to craft options for the White House, but at this point they have not been given a green light to move forward on any of them as the President considers his position that he must have $5 billion in border wall funding to sign off on any deal.

Sources are beginning to acknowledge that, with time running out, the solution may need to be a short-term agreement to extend funding at the current levels — or face the partial government shutdown. But, those sources say a final decision still hasn’t been made — mainly because of the President.

GOP senators say Trump seems to think that by waiting he can exert maximum pressure on Democrats and force them to cave by funding his border wall. But Republicans fear that they will suffer the political backlash if there’s a shutdown over the wall.

“I really don’t know, and I don’t think anyone does,” said one GOP senator of the President’s thinking. “I think he’s playing this game to the end because thinks he can get a better hand.”

The senator added: “I think what Republicans don’t want to see is us being blamed.”

Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican and the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, suggested lawmakers may receive a signal from the White House by Monday evening, though he wasn’t sure what it would be — or if it would come at all.

“He might be amenable to doing nothing. Let it tick away,” Shelby, referring to Trump, told reporters after emerging from a closed-door meeting with McConnell. “I don’t know.”

As of this point on Tuesday morning, it does not appear as if the White House communicated anything at all to Capitol Hill by the end of the day yesterday or overnight. As I’ve already said, in a logical world this whole dispute could be easily resolved in any number of ways. The easiest option would be to kick the can down the road four to six weeks to get the issue of funding the government past the holidays but, of course, that would mean it would come up at a time when Democrats will control the House of Representatives. Another option would be to pass a full CR that funds those portions of the government for which funding bills have yet to be passed, but that seems to be less and less likely the closer we get to Friday. As a result, Republicans on Capitol Hill are trying to come up with other ideas:

Among the options are a short term punt to the new year that would freeze spending levels for the 25% of the federal government facing a funding deadline of December 21. In recent days negotiators have toyed with several combinations of longer term options that may incorporate boosted funding for border security through other mechanisms — something Democrats have made clear they are likely to oppose. Another option that has been floated is continuing the funding for the Department of Homeland Security — the bill at the center of the wall fight — for a month, while moving forward with longer term funding for the six other unpassed appropriations measures.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said on the floor Monday that he has not yet heard from the White House after last week’s contentious meeting with the President, and he complained that the White House is in disarray.

With the clock ticking down, aides in both parties have grown more resigned to the reality that a short-term punt is growing more and more likely as the only option.

With fewer than five days until the government is set to partially shut down, lawmakers and staff are still attempting to figure out not just the policy side of any solution, but also the process. Traditionally spending bills start in the House, but with the chamber out of session until Wednesday night, Republicans are considering starting the process in the Senate, where there are legislative vehicles available to overcome procedural hurdles, to speed things along.

“That’s possible but it’s so difficult because you need consent to do everything,” Cornyn told reporters of the Senate starting first. “It would be a lot easier if the House did it and left town and jammed the Senate.”

Cornyn acknowledged a short-term solution was a possibility, but termed it “not the first, second or third choice.” Still, the pathway forward, both on the policy and procedural grounds, remains far from set as even the most senior Republicans say they still haven’t been clued into the next steps.

“It will all be revealed in the fullness of time,” Cornyn told reporters. “My guess would be by Wednesday. I mean the House doesn’t even come back until Wednesday. I wish I could give you direction. I don’t really know what will happen.”

Perhaps we’ll get further answers later today, but I wouldn’t count on it.


FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Congress, Deficit and Debt, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Kathy says:

    Schumer said it best, it’s like negotiating with a blob of Jell-o.

  2. MarkedMan says:

    In the midst of all this, with the government about to shut down and everyone looking to the White House, Trump’s budget director walks into the Oval Office to discuss the budget. And what does our 11 Year Old In Chief do? Gives him another job. Effective immediately.

  3. Gustopher says:

    Remember when Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill would get a scotch and hammer it out? Sometimes they would have to crush a little adderal into powder and snort it, and they always went through at least a bottle of scotch each, but after they stopped screaming obscenities at each other, and making their seconds arm wrestle for no particular reason, someone would pull out a Betamax video cassette of soft core pornography, and while that was running in the background, they would work out how much and how hard to screw over the poor.

    In the morning, as they were gathering up their clothes, they would see the document, and have no idea how they came to that agreement, but they didn’t want to repeat the process, so that was that. After a couple of Bloody Mary’s and some Tylenol to take the edge off, they would shake hands, and come to a friendly agreement.

    We need that type of across the aisle comraderie again to solve our problems.

  4. Gustopher says:

    @Gustopher: I just figured I would save Tyrell some time and post his folksy solution…

  5. MarkedMan says:

    I’ve seen a few rumors in the last hour that Trump is going to fold. But given that he is a moron no one has any idea if that will actually stick, including himself.

    Trump always talks about what a great businessman he is, and the Trumpers lap up that crap, but the reality is that Trump thinks winning is all about screwing the other guy, so people never do business with him again. If I can buy from you at 90 and sell at 100 in my market, we can both money day after day. But Trump is the kind of guy that promises 95, then stiffs you for everything and screams in your face to sue him if you don’t like it. And so he gets one deal but throws years worth of business in the toilet. The problem for us is that now he is in a situation where he has to deal with the same people every time. Congress is the only partner possible. So he “negotiated” and then changed his mind at the last second due to something he heard from the Fox morons or from Steve Miller or, who knows, he might base these last minute mind changes on the consistency of the dump he took that morning. But he has managed to screw everyone he has negotiated with, publicly humiliating them so often that they are pretty much fed up. The Dems come out OK because they can use it to discredit Trump and Republicans in general. But the McConnells and the Ryans just have to smile and take it.

  6. Mister Bluster says:

    @Gustopher:..I just figured I would save Tyrell some time and post his folksy solution…

    Tyrell should get shaking and copyright his down home cooking before his boyfriend Trump shuts everything down. I’m sure his fairy tales are worth millions!
    By the way shouldn’t you mention Nancy Reagan’s Astrologer for her role influencing Saint Ronnie’s budget process?

  7. Kathy says:

    I got it. Instead of negotiating with El Cheeto himself, Congressional leaders ought to parley with Sean Hannity, Trump’s more nationalistic aides, and a focus group of Trump’s base. the latter would have no say in the matter, but would get veto power.

  8. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    This is a very bad day for Individual-1.
    He is folding on his wall, like a cheap lawn chair would fold under his fat orange ass.
    The Judge in the Flynn sentencing seems to want him charged with Treason, and Flynn admitted he was not entrapped….which all the Trumpaloons have been saying he was for at least the last week.
    And the Judge in NY is forcing the Dennison Foundation to close because it was nothing but a criminal enterprise.
    And it’s only 1:00pm.

  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    Yep. Trump caved. Again. He always does. His negotiating approach on the shutdown was:

    1) Talk trash
    2) Threaten
    3) Vow to never, ever, ever surrender and 24 hours later. . .
    4) Surrender

    Much the same on the Foundation. Bluster and threats and lies and inevitable collapse. Ditto NAFTA. Ditto North Korea. Ditto Obamacare. He’s like the worst poker player ever – he bluffs even when he doesn’t need to. And once you realize that about Trump, Trump loses 100% of the time.

    The ONLY way to get Trump to stand firm on anything is to buy him. So he stands strong for Putin and MBS, surrenders on everything else.

  10. MarkedMan says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: According to Talking Points Memo, the judge is tearing Flynn a new asshole. Telling him his behavior was sickening and then pointed to an American flag and told him he violated everything it stands for.

  11. Sleeping Dog says:

    Thanks, no I have this image of Nancy and Tiny… You, you, you….

  12. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Mexico has agreed to pay…
    …for the impeachment.

  13. Sleeping Dog says:

    Shutdown may interfere with golf, so no shutdown, via Huffpost.

  14. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Yup…Flynn and his attorney took the delay and got the fvck out of there before it got any worse.
    Fox News:

    This is no worse than Jaywalking.

    Judge Sullivan:

    “…arguably you sold your country out.”

  15. Blue Galangal says:

    @Gustopher: Nice Tyrell!

  16. Kathy says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    The only way we’ll pay for that is if America can guarantee removal. Do that and we’ll spring for the deluxe package, including real, solid gold(color)-plated prison bars.

  17. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy: Kathy, I think I’ve got the answer: Mexico should build a 30 foot high prison with only one cell. It should be the best prison, very beautiful and very strong. You should pay for all of it, every dime, and call it “The Wall”. Then invite Trump to come down to inspect the Mexican built Wall. Once AF1 takes off, we will handle the legal loose ends here. Some Republicans might not like it but being rid of Trump with the stroke of a pen will be just too good to pass up. And the US will be forever in your debt for taking the orange moron off our hands. Genius, no?

  18. MarkedMan says:


    But given that he is a moron no one has any idea if that will actually stick

    …and true to form, the official White House word now is that he will wait for the Senate to pass something and then he will think about it. So basically, everyone should fly back to Washington with no guarantee that the vote will even matter.

    As a side note, he seems to have forgotten that there are two houses of Congress and they have this thing called reconciliation.

  19. Kathy says:


    Sure. But we won’t build a new prison. rather, we’ll remodel parts of an older penitentiary. There’s a lovely one in the Islas Marías, exclusive for federal inmates.

  20. Jen says:


    he will wait for the Senate to pass something and then he will think about it

    He is AWFUL at this job. I know we all already know this, but my god does he need to prove it every single day?

    Utterly bloody clueless.

  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “GOP senators say Trump seems to think that by waiting he can exert maximum pressure on Democrats and force them to cave by funding his border wall.”

    Which, of course, might have actually worked except that Trump said publicly that he would take the hit on the shutdown and was proud to do it.

    ETA: I don’t think the Dems would have ponied up the whole $5 billion down payment, but they might have gone to 2.5.

  22. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Here’s a suggestion: Mitch and Paul walk into the Oval office and put the toddler in chief in time out in a corner and make him stay there for 72 minutes, no twitter, no FOX News, no INFO wars, no Breitbart. OK ok, there are no corners in the oval office, but they can construct one out of the resolute desk and a wall.

  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I don’t think the Dems would have ponied up the whole $5 billion down payment, but they might have gone to 2.5.

    If it came wit a guaranteed path to citizenship for all the DACA recipients? Done in a NY second.

  24. Kylopod says:

    Trump has been claiming over the past few days that Mexico would be effectively paying for the wall due to the money gained through TRAFTA. I really think Trump literally does not understand the difference between government revenue and business gains. It’s the same fallacy he committed last year when he claimed the booming stock market (which for some reason he doesn’t talk much about anymore) was enough to pay off the national debt.

    Of course it’s almost impossible to tell whether he really is that ignorant or if he’s just bullshitting like he always does, secure in the knowledge that his supporters are that ignorant. In this case, I bet it’s the former. He’s not alone in being confused over this distinction: back in 2010 Tea Party leader Judson Phillips revealed in an interview that he didn’t understand the difference between government revenue and economic growth. This kind of illiteracy is widespread on the right, and it aids in acceptance of the GOP’s economic snake-oil like supply-side economics, which doesn’t outright claim that growth and revenue are the same but does often suggest–in the face of mountains of evidence disproving it–that economic growth generated through tax cuts will “pay for” the losses in tax revenues. People like Trump and Phillips simplify the argument by cutting out the middle-man.

  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Well, yeah. Of course. But that’s a no brainer, so the Republicans will oppose doing it, and Trump would oppose signing it (as he has done twice (three times?) already. Just like the grand compromise during Obama’s administration.

    ETA: @Kylopod: With Trump, I go with ignorant. Every. Time.

  26. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “He’s like the worst poker player ever
    – he bluffs even when he doesn’t need to. ”

    This is what always astonished me about his followers. Every time Trump has a temper tantrum, they always say, quoting him, “he’s a counter-puncher — if someone hits him he’ll always hit back twice as hard.”

    In other words, they’re bragging because Trump has only one response to every possible stimulus, which makes him the most easibly manipulated person on the planet. It’s obvious Chuck and Nancy know this — look at how easily they played him over the shut-down.

    But Trump and his marching society can’t quite seem to figure out that if you broadcast that you will always react in exactly the same way, it’s pretty easy for anyone to get him to do their bidding.

  27. Kathy says:


    He’s not alone in being confused over this distinction: back in 2010 Tea Party leader Judson Phillips revealed in an interview that he didn’t understand the difference between government revenue and economic growth.

    The party of Homer Simpson, right? (*)

    One time Homer decided to make money by selling grease. To that end, he fries a side of bacon, which Marge had bought for her book club, feeds the bacon to the dog, and stores a few ounces of grease. He sells this for sixty cents.

    And then:

    Bart: Dad, all that bacon costs twenty-seven dollars.

    Homer: Yeah, but your mom paid for that.

    Bart: But doesn’t she get her money from you?

    Homer: And I get my money from grease! What’s the problem?

    (*) Without Homer’s innate benevolence.