Congressional leaders’ efforts to hatch a massive spending deal have been thrown off course by the Trump administration’s eleventh hour intervention, leaving the bipartisan bill teetering on the brink of collapse just a week before a government shutdown deadline.
The hard line taken by White House officials, particularly budget director Mick Mulvaney, has strained an emerging deal between House and Senate leaders that would skirt hot-button issues that could shut down the government. In particular, administration officials’ hopes of giving President Donald Trump a win during his first 100 days, such as border wall funding or a crackdown on sanctuary cities, have complicated what had been a relatively smooth, bicameral, bipartisan negotiation, according to staffers in both parties.
But Democrats are taking an aggressive stance, too, flatly insisting that Trump or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan make a commitment to funding Obamacare’s cost-sharing subsidies as a precondition to voting for any bill to fund the government through September. Democrats have also talked tough on ruling out funding for a wall or a provision restricting billions in federal grants from cities that don’t enforce federal immigration laws.
“Negotiations are slow going,” said a Republican aide familiar with the bargaining. “There is a deal to be had — a good one with wins for both parties, but I think with a new minority leader and a new president, anything can happen … If we don’t get much progress by this weekend, bad news.”
Republican leaders are desperate to avoid a shutdown after April 28, and Trump himself said on Thursday, “We wanna keep the government open.” But productive talks among McConnell, Ryan, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stalled over the last 24 hours after administration officials signaled they would dig in over wall funding.
Legislative text detailing the agreement that some lawmakers expected to be released late this week is now not expected until next week — if ever. In order to avoid a shutdown, Congress could also pass a one-week extension to give negotiators more time.
Congressional leaders “could have struck a deal” on a larger package said a Senate Democratic aide. The White House’s involvement means hopes for a bipartisan agreement are “just getting murkier.”
Republicans are mulling a fallback plan that would fund the government at current levels through September, known as a continuing resolution, aides said. That bill would likely contain some new money for fighting terror, a priority of both parties.
However, some Republicans doubt a long-term patch can pass the House. And both parties want to avoid a stopgap spending bill that would amount to a major disappointment for both parties and do little to change Washington’s reputation for gridlock, even with a new president.
Some hope rose on Thursday when Mulvaney signaled openness to allowing Obamacare’s subsidies to continue flowing to low-income Americans for one to two years on Thursday at a forum hosted by the Institute of International Finance, intriguing some Republicans.
But House Democratic leadership told the White House they want a permanent fix included in the spending bill that would ensure Obamacare subsidies are deemed mandatory government spending, rather than subject to the yearly whims of Congress, a source familiar with the conversation said.
And just as he appeared open to cutting a deal, Mulvaney also told the Associated Press that “elections have consequences” and Trump must receive funding for the wall in the spending bill.
“There are a lot of people on the Hill, especially in the Democratic Party, who don’t like the wall, but they lost the election,” Mulvaney told the AP.
Republican said privately it would be would helpful for Mulvaney and the White House to concede that the Democrats are not going to fund the wall and move on. But there is a combative element to the divided Trump White House that believes otherwise.
“There are people in the West Wing who want the shutdown fight because they think that’s how you get things done. And there is another faction in the White House that knows that’s a bad idea,” said a senior House Republican aide.
Still, many Democrats are open to giving Trump some concessions to receive funding on their domestic priorities as part of a deal, which would likely mean more money for defense spending and some money for border security — but not a border wall. Ryan and McConnell will need significant support from Democrats for any bill, given the Senate’s 60-vote threshold and opposition to spending bills among hardline conservatives in the House.
“Democrats have essentially accepted they’ll have to swallow some kind of defense [and] border funding and are okay with that as long as it’s not to build a stupid wall,” said a House Democratic source. Trump has demanded an immediate $1.4 billion for the wall.
House Democrats held a conference call on Thursday where leaders took a dim view of the state of play. Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said the White House is acting “erratic” and has been a significant roadblock.
Some Republicans are currently opposed to a one-week stopgap, reasoning that the April 28 deadline will drive an agreement. Others, however, believe it’s inevitable that they’ll need more time. Lowey and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) both said Democrats shouldn’t agree to any kind of extension unless a handshake deal on the overall funding bill is reached.
For now, Republicans are confident that the government will not shut down, reasoning that Democrats will shoulder some blame if they vote down whatever proposal is before Congress next week and funding lapses. And some are still holding out hope that the skirmishes over the two-week congressional recess will be forgotten during crunch time next week.
“Despite the constant ‘shutdown’ talk… the [negotiations] are ongoing and productive,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell.
Sarah Ferris contributed to this story.