WASHINGTON — Government shutdown or no shutdown?
President Donald Trump and Republican leaders are trying to salvage priorities like his wall along the Mexico border and immediate increases in defense spending without stumbling into a politically toxic government shutdown in another month. The temporary government-wide spending bill runs out at midnight April 28, and Trump needs Democratic help in getting the legislation done.
“It’s always been a negotiation and they’ve never been able to pass one without Democratic votes,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday.
Said Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., “We’re probably going to need bipartisan votes to keep the government open.”
Behind the scenes, lawmakers are working on the $1 trillion-plus legislation to keep the government running through Sept. 30, the end of the budget year. The emerging spending compromise, aides and lawmakers say, is shaping up pretty much as it would have if former President Barack Obama were in the Oval Office.
The key complications are Trump’s requests for $30 billion for an immediate infusion of cash for the Pentagon and $3 billion for additional security measures on the U.S.-Mexico border, including $1 billion to build fencing and a levee wall along 60 miles or so (about 100 kilometers) in Texas and near San Diego.
Trump repeatedly said during the campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall, but the administration has made clear U.S. tax dollars will finance it.
Democrats like Pelosi vow to oppose any wall funding, but are open to other security measures such as drones and sensors. Many Republicans, however, are also wary of Trump’s vision for a massive brick-and-mortar wall.
“It might not be a physical wall everywhere, which has always been my point,” said GOP Rep. Steve Pearce, who represents New Mexico’s entire southern border. “So we’ll take a look at it when they get it a little more developed.”
Collins, a key Trump ally, told reporters the wall could be handled in another, additional bill. “We don’t need to deal with that” in the catchall spending bill, he said.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer countered, “Obviously we don’t want the government to shut down, but we want to make sure we’re funding the priorities of the government.”
After last week’s failure on health care, GOP leaders and the White House appear wary of a battle with Democrats like Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York that could leave divided Republicans saddled with the blame for a government shutdown.
“We’re not going to have a government shutdown,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told CBS News in an interview broadcast Thursday. “The president doesn’t want to have a government shutdown.”
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The X factor is the Trump White House, which aides and lawmakers say hasn’t sent clear signals about how hard it wants to push for items to place in the win column. April 29 — the potential shutdown day — also will mark the 100th day of Trump’s presidency, a date not lost on Republicans.
For now, the negotiations are being handling by top lawmakers on the House and Senate Appropriations committees, a pragmatic-minded group with a time-tested history of producing results. Conservatives don’t have anything to gripe about yet since the bill is being written in secret, but they may resent getting it rammed past them in the scramble to avert a shutdown.
“Let’s get the process right now,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a member of the staunchly conservative House Freedom Caucus. “Good process brings good policy, which makes good politics,” he said.
The plan, Ryan told reporters Thursday, is for the House to send a 10-bill package of non-defense spending measures — and some but not all of Trump’s supplemental spending request — to the Senate, where it would be merged with a bipartisan $578 billion House-passed Pentagon spending measure.
One potential scenario is for some measures to be drafted as detailed, account-by-account legislation, but with more controversial agencies, such as the IRS and Health and Human Services, being financed at current levels.
Defense hawks insist that won’t work for the complex Pentagon budget.
“Our first priority is the men and women in uniform and I’m not going to put them at greater risk even if I have to shut down the government,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
Ryan’s plan is built on the hope that far-right lawmakers don’t revolt.
Congress leaves Washington for a two-week spring break next Friday. That would leave just one week to process the as-yet-unfinished spending package through the House and Senate. Hiccups are to be expected, but a shutdown is probably unlikely since lawmakers could quickly pass another stopgap bill to keep the government’s doors open for a week or so.
“We’ve got a government shutdown deadline approaching us. We’ve got the health care bill and all the troubles it has engendered,” said former Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky. “I’ve just got to believe that reason will prevail.”