It’s only June, but President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump defends Stephanopolous interview Trump defends Stephanopolous interview Buttigieg on offers of foreign intel: ‘Just call the FBI’ MORE’s laser-like focus on immigration and desire for a border wall is making GOP lawmakers nervous that lagging talks on a budget deal could further bog down and lead to another government shutdown.
Trump is demanding $5 billion in border-wall funding as part of a deal that would put ceilings on federal spending and raise the debt ceiling.
A senior administration official on Friday said the Senate should put together appropriations bills that fund the president’s border-wall request. The GOP Senate could then negotiate with Democrats in the House on compromise version of the spending bills later this year.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyOn The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill On The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill Trump’s border funding comes back from the dead MORE (R-Ala.) and other Senate Republicans see that as a risky strategy that could lead to another stalemate and potential government shutdown at the end of the year.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Overnight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations ‘alarming’ | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale MORE (R-Ky.) and other Senate Republicans are eager to avoid the chance of another government shutdown but Trump is more focused on revving up his conservative base ahead of the 2020 election. He wants to show he’s doing everything to deliver on his top campaign promise: building the wall.
Trump tweeted a quote this past week from GOP pollster John McLaughlin declaring that the president has “delivered on keeping America stronger & safer.”
Getting more money from Congress for a border wall would make that argument stronger.
Shelby doesn’t think Democrats will agree to $5 billion for a border wall, even if some Republicans think the allocation can be euphemistically described or “massaged” as funding for “border barriers” or “border infrastructure.”
A meeting Wednesday afternoon between Shelby, McConnell and several senior GOP appropriators and senior White House officials failed to yield any breakthrough.
“I think the biggest problem is the wall funding,” said a GOP lawmaker familiar with the talks. “They want $5 billion. I don’t think they’re going to get $5 billion for the wall.”
Trump’s demands for the wall funding are being delivered by Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinSchiff blasts DOJ over memo on withholding Trump tax returns Schiff blasts DOJ over memo on withholding Trump tax returns On The Money: DOJ offers legal opinion backing refusal to release Trump tax returns | Centrist Democrats raise concerns over minimum wage | Trump bashes Powell ahead of crucial Fed meeting | Design leaks for Harriet Tubman bill MORE and White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw White House mulling restoring daily press briefing with Sanders replacement: report MORE, the former fiscal hardliner from the House who has repeatedly rubbed Senate Republicans the wrong way.
A second Republican lawmaker said senators are frustrated with Mulvaney, who has been digging in his heels on the two-year spending deal preferred by McConnell and Shelby.
“Did Mulvaney ever vote for a spending bill in the House? I don’t think so,” the source said.
Shelby and others argue the two-year deal is critical to keeping the U.S. military adequately prepared to face Iran and other international threats.
The wall isn’t the only problem faced by negotiators.
Mulvaney and Mnuchin are worried about the potential political backlash if Trump signs a deal with Democrats that dramatically increases non-defense spending.
A two-year budget deal could increase spending by almost $350 billion over the next two years and project to exceed $2 trillion over the next decade, based on the analysis of the two-year deal Trump and Congress agreed to last year.
Yet increasing non-defense spending seems unavoidable if Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments MORE (D-Calif.) is to back the deal.
“Pelosi’s numbers are not going to be accepted by Senate Republicans,” the source said.
Pelosi and House Democrats are moving their version of the annual spending bills without an agreement on the top-line numbers with the White House and Senate.
Acting White House budget director Russ Vought on Thursday cast Pelosi as the biggest obstacle to reaching a deal and warned she could put the credit worthiness of the nation at risk by holding up the debt limit.
“The threat by Speaker Pelosi to oppose a debt limit increase until the administration agrees to Democrats’ $2 trillion in unaffordable spending increases is reckless and irresponsible,” Vought said in a statement.
A third GOP lawmaker said Mulvaney and the White House are leery of criticism from the House Freedom Caucus and conservative media outlets if a spending bill raises the deficit significantly.
“You also have to get the House Republicans on board so they won’t denounce what the Senate does. Nobody really thinks about that. If they come out against it, then you’re going to have the conservative media say it’s a terrible deal,” the senator said, adding that Mulvaney and Mnuchin are “concerned about the debt and rightfully so.”
But the lawmaker said Senate Republicans are worried about avoiding another shutdown.
“I don’t think anybody wants to go through what we went through last year,” the senator said.
McConnell, speaking to a small group of reporters in April, said a two-year spending deal was needed to avoid a possible government shutdown or year-long continuing resolution.
He said a deal “typically ruffles feathers among some on your own side” but added “this is sort of the basic work of government that has to be done.”
Republicans are somewhat optimistic that Shelby can work out a deal with Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOn The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill On The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill Trump’s border funding comes back from the dead MORE (Vt.), the ranking Democrat on his committee, despite the Pelosi demands.
Shelby and Leahy took an overnight flight Thursday to Europe to attend the start of the Paris Air Show, giving them more time one-on-one to discuss a spending deal.
The two veteran senators have been able to work out deals in the past.
But all sides say the fight over the fall funding, which triggered a partial government shutdown earlier this year, is a real problem.
The $5 billion numbers that Trump is demanding comes from the Department of Homeland Security portion of the president’s 2020 budget.
His request makes $5 billion for construction of the border wall a high priority and also asks for $506 million to hire over 2,800 additional law enforcement officers and other personnel at U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The focus of Wednesday’s meeting in McConnell’s office was on the macro spending numbers and administration officials did not put the controversial topic of the border wall up for discussion.
Instead, a Senate Republican asked if the funding for the wall could be omitted or drastically downsized to avoid another partisan confrontation and government shutdown at year’s end.
“The discussions haven’t been focused on specific program funding but on overall spending top-lines, yet it is frustrating that the administration requests for critical border funding continues to be ignored by Congress. It doesn’t make much sense that Republican appropriations bills wouldn’t include Republican priorities before negotiations with Democrats have even started,” said a senior administration official.
Asked about GOP frustration with Mulvaney’s role in the spending talks, Leahy said, “the impression I get is that Republicans are tired of having somebody trying to micromanage it that has nothing to do with the final result.”
“Dick Shelby and I will work something out,” he said.