Clock ticking as lawmakers move to avoid government shutdown

Lawmakers are largely in a state of suspense as negotiators prepare for a very big week on the spending talks to avoid a potential government shutdown.

Still waiting. And watching. And waiting. And watching. Oh, and the clock is ticking.

Bottom line

The House and Senate will pass measures to keep the government open and maintain funding at its current levels by next week’s funding deadline, aides tell CNN. That much is certain. Whether they can reach a deal on the big picture, topline numbers that allows both chambers to kickstart the broader appropriations process this week, remains an open question.

The clock

The U.S. government runs out of money in 10 days.

What to watch

The “four corners” meeting scheduled for Tuesday is now likely down to two of the four corners due to scheduling issues, aides tell me. That said, Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama and House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey of New York are scheduled to meet Tuesday to see if they can close in on agreement on both the topline numbers and the short-term funding extension. This is a very important meeting for the broader appropriations process.

The timeline

The U.S. government runs out of money on Nov. 21. Yes, that’s next Thursday. No, nobody expects a shutdown. Discussions, as we’ve reported, have been ongoing for several weeks about a continuing resolution that would put the next deadline at either Dec. 13 or Dec. 20. That date will be settled on this week and likely early in the week, aides say.

Just to reiterate this point

I’ve spoken to officials in both chambers, from both parties, and at the White House. There is no discussion of a shutdown, or any brinksmanship tied to one, related to this continuing resolution. The only negotiations are on the specific date of that funding resolution. Of course, that could change if President Donald Trump decides to make it change, but at this point, the real deadline, at least in everyone’s minds, appears to have moved to December. Now they just need to make that a legislative reality.

Can things go sideways?

Sure. If you aren’t caveatin’ in this administration, you haven’t been paying attention. Consider this the obligatory caveat: all it takes is one tweet …

The bigger picture trigger

As we reported last week, the real negotiations right now are on hammering out an agreement on the topline numbers (or 302(b)s in approps-speak) that will allow for bipartisan subcommittee allocations. Once those are in hand, negotiators think the process of starting to move, quickly, most of the 12 appropriations bills will kick into gear. That’s the theory at least. And that’s the primary goal this week.

‘Most,’ not ‘all’ of the appropriations bills

The wall. Transfer authority for wall funds. These are still very much live and contentious issues that will need to be resolved. Administration officials have signaled they are willing to put them aside in the near term, aides say. But they won’t go away forever. In other words, however long this next stopgap funding bills is, target that end date for the next chapter of the border wall fight.