Congress returned to work this week in the same position it did last week: facing a Friday deadline to extend funding for the Department of Homeland Security or watch as the federal agency partially shuts down. But while this week is shaping up to be a repeat of the same intraparty GOP showdown, there are a number of telling signs that this round is likely to have a more conclusive ending—one that will come in the form of the long-term funding bill that President Obama and his congressional allies have been demanding for weeks
First, a quick reminder of how we got here: Last Friday, House Speaker John Boehner attempted to avoid the looming partial shutdown of DHS with a three-week funding bill that would have simply ensured that Congress found itself right back in the middle of this same immigration fight three weeks down the road. Boehner’s bid, however, unexpectedly and embarrassingly failed when he couldn’t wrangle the support of enough of his party’s rank-and-file, a solid chunk of whom are refusing to fund the department unless President Obama abandons his high-profile immigration reforms. Democrats, who have demanded a long-term deal without strings, were in no mood to help Boehner, and the measure failed 203–224. Then, with the midnight funding deadline fast approaching, Boehner pushed through a one-week funding bill, avoiding the shutdown but prolonging the showdown.
But here’s why this week’s drama may not end with a similar cliffhanger: Boehner wouldn’t have been able to pass the one-week bill without the help of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. All but 12 Democrats voted against the original three-week bill; hours later, all but five voted for the one-week bill. Without those Democratic votes, the one-week bill meets the same fate as the three-week one. Why the reversal, then? What did Democrats have to gain?
The most obvious answer is that Boehner promised Pelosi what Democrats have wanted all along: a no-strings funding bill that keeps the DHS funded through the end of the fiscal year. While Boehner’s office is denying any such assurances were made, Democrats are treating it like an open secret. “Your vote tonight will assure that we will vote for full funding next week,” Pelosi told her caucus in a letter shortly before Friday’s roll call on the one-week measure. Asked about a deal on Monday, Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, dodged the question with a rhetorical one of his own: “Why do you think that Democrats voted for a one-week [bill]?
Democratic aides, meanwhile, are playing significantly less coy. “I can confirm absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, that Speaker Boehner committed, directly and without any ambiguity, that, in return for Democrats helping him pass the one-week CR, he would bring up the clean, yearlong appropriations bill that passed the Senate Friday and let it pass the House,” one leadership aide told the Hill. “There is no question whatsoever.”
Democrats could be trying to paint the long-term funding bill as a done deal in hopes of making it one. And, of course, even if Boehner explicitly promised a vote—or perhaps simply raised the possibility—there’s nothing that would force him to follow through on it. But, as last week made clear, he’s out of other options. Come Friday, Democrats almost certainly won’t be willing to throw Boehner a second lifeline in the form of support for another short-term funding bill. That leaves the House speaker with only two real options: a partial DHS shutdown, which he’s already gone to great lengths to avoid, or the no-strings longer-term funding bill Senate Republicans approved last week after repeatedly trying and failing to pass a reform-blocking funding bill.