Road to spend­ing deal gets tougher as shut­down looms

The Washington Post - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY ERICA WERNER erica.werner@wash­ Ed O’Keefe con­trib­uted to this re­port.

A week from a govern­ment shut­down dead­line, law­mak­ers had no clear path to a deal Fri­day, each side was al­ready blam­ing the other for a po­ten­tial fail­ure, and em­bold­ened Democrats seized on Pres­i­dent Trump’s in­cen­di­ary com­ments about im­mi­grants to in­sist they would hold firm in their de­mands.

A shut­down Jan. 20 would come on the an­niver­sary of Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, but the pres­i­dent him­self ap­peared to have made the path to bi­par­ti­san com­pro­mise tougher with his Oval Of­fice com­ments about im­mi­grants from “shit­hole coun­tries.”

Trump’s re­marks sent law­mak­ers into their cor­ners on the di­vi­sive is­sue. And even though GOP lead­ers in­sist that im­mi­gra­tion ne­go­ti­a­tions should be sep­a­rate from talks on a two-year spend­ing deal, they ac­knowl­edge that they have be­come in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked be­cause Demo­cratic votes are needed to keep the govern­ment open in the Se­nate and po­ten­tially in the House.

Democrats are in­tent on us­ing that lever­age to force a so­lu­tion for hun­dreds of thou­sands of un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants brought here as youths. With no deal on the hori­zon for those “dream­ers,” who face los­ing tem­po­rary pro­tec­tions granted by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, there was also no ob­vi­ous so­lu­tion to keep the govern­ment open.

“As a House mem­ber I look at this as a Se­nate prob­lem, and their is­sues have com­pli­cated our ca­pac­ity to do sim­ple func­tions of fund­ing the govern­ment,” said Rep. Pa­trick T. McHenry (R-N.C.), the chief deputy whip in the House. “This is a stub­born mi­nor­ity that has ex­tra­ne­ous political prob­lems they’re try­ing to bring into the fund­ing of govern­ment,” McHenry said, re­fer­ring to im­mi­gra­tion.

Democrats, who are un­der in­tense pres­sure from im­mi­grant ad­vo­cates to op­pose any spend­ing leg­is­la­tion with­out a deal for dream­ers, coun­tered that Trump was to blame for com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters.

“The pres­i­dent’s racist out­burst sug­gests he is more in­ter­ested in fight­ing cul­ture wars than solv­ing prob­lems,” said Rep. Nita M. Lowey (N.Y.), the top Demo­crat on the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee. “That sends a bad sig­nal about his abil­ity to be a con­struc­tive part of reach­ing a spend­ing agree­ment or meet­ing any other chal­lenge we face.”

There will be just a hand­ful of leg­isla­tive days to forge a deal when law­mak­ers re­turn next week from the long Martin Luther King Jr. Day week­end. Few ex­pect that an agree­ment will be reached in that time on im­mi­gra­tion and govern­ment-wide spend­ing for mil­i­tary and do­mes­tic pro­grams, as well as chil­dren’s health in­sur­ance and dis­as­ter re­lief, which are also tied up in the talks.

That means the only op­tion for keep­ing the govern­ment run­ning would be a fourth short-term “con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion” that ex­tends ex­ist­ing spend­ing lev­els to give ne­go­tia­tors more time. But whether that could pass is un­cer­tain, and if it doesn’t, the govern­ment will be­gin to shut down Jan. 20, with parks clos­ing and nonessen­tial work­ers fur­loughed.

Many Democrats have been cau­tious about say­ing they would op­pose spend­ing leg­is­la­tion — and force a shut­down — over im­mi­gra­tion. But Trump’s com­ments dis­parag­ing Haitian im­mi­grants and African na­tions have clearly stiff­ened their spines. And al­though Repub­li­cans con­tend that Democrats would take the blame if the govern­ment shut down, many Democrats scoff since Repub­li­cans con­trol both cham­bers of Congress and the White House.

“Why is a Demo­crat go­ing to sign on to a bill that may rep­re­sent a com­pro­mise on what they re­ally want if they think the pres­i­dent’s just go­ing to veto it?” asked Rep. Joaquin Cas­tro (D-Tex.), vice chair­man of the Con­gres­sional His­panic Cau­cus.

Repub­li­cans plan to make it as hard as pos­si­ble for Democrats to op­pose a spend­ing bill, in­clud­ing po­ten­tially link­ing the leg­is­la­tion to an ex­ten­sion of the Chil­dren’s Health In­sur­ance Pro­gram and per­haps dis­as­ter aid for Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. They plan mul­ti­ple votes and in­tend to use the same ar­gu­ments Democrats em­ployed against the GOP dur­ing a 16-day par­tial govern­ment shut­down in 2013, when fed­eral work­ers had to go with­out pay while some tax­payer ser­vices were closed.

But must-pass spend­ing leg­is­la­tion next week also faces a threat from within the Repub­li­can ranks. De­fense hawks in­sist that more money is needed for the mil­i­tary, and they have grown frus­trated with pass­ing bills that ex­tend ex­ist­ing spend­ing lev­els with­out giv­ing the Pen­tagon the in­crease mil­i­tary lead­ers say is nec­es­sary to en­sure readi­ness.

“While we’re un­der the CR [con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion] our troops aren’t get­ting the in­creased fund­ing we’ve com­mit­ted to do in the House, and that needs to be a non­par­ti­san is­sue,” said Rep. War­ren David­son (R-Ohio), who said he would con­sider op­pos­ing an­other con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion de­pend­ing on the fi­nal pack­age.

House GOP lead­ers fear that a re­volt from fed-up de­fense hawks could im­peril their abil­ity to pass a spend­ing bill with Repub­li­can votes alone, which would hand Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) the lever­age to make de­mands on im­mi­gra­tion or other is­sues.

The dy­nam­ics add up to an un­usu­ally un­cer­tain out­look, with many law­mak­ers re­luc­tant to pre­dict how events will play out.

“I don’t think there will be” a govern­ment shut­down, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said at a Wis Pol­i­tics event at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin at Mil­wau­kee on Fri­day, but he of­fered few specifics.

“We will get this done,” Ryan said, in re­sponse to a ques­tion on chil­dren’s health fund­ing. “Ex­actly when, I’m not so sure.”

On the spend­ing piece, law­mak­ers are try­ing to strike a two-year deal set­ting new spend­ing lev­els for mil­i­tary and do­mes­tic pro­grams, and staving off au­to­matic spend­ing caps.

The White House wants the dis­cre­tionary num­ber for de­fense spend­ing to be about $603 bil­lion, which is $54 bil­lion more than the $549 bil­lion that would kick in for the 2018 fis­cal year un­der the au­to­matic spend­ing caps es­tab­lished in 2011. Con­gres­sional de­fense hawks are seek­ing even more, but Democrats are de­mand­ing “par­ity,” mean­ing that non­de­fense spend­ing should in­crease by the same amount as mil­i­tary spend­ing.

Repub­li­cans re­ject the par­ity de­mand and in­sist on off­set­ting cuts for any spend­ing in­creases. Democrats ar­gue that since Repub­li­cans passed a $1.5 tril­lion tax bill that will add to the debt, they have no grounds for call­ing for off­sets.

De­spite the dis­putes, some law­mak­ers con­tend that a deal could fall quickly into place if im­mi­gra­tion could be re­solved.

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