Ne­go­tia­tors say bud­get shut­down can still be avoided

Schumer warns that ‘poi­son pill’ riders will de­rail talks

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY S.A. MILLER

De­spite in­ten­si­fy­ing clashes over sev­eral hot-but­ton spend­ing is­sues, bud­get ne­go­tia­tors con­tin­ued to pro­fess op­ti­mism Mon­day that they would avoid a gov­ern­ment shut­down next week, and Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials re­fused even to dis­cuss con­tin­gency plans in case the deal col­lapses.

A Capi­tol Hill Repub­li­can close to the ne­go­ti­a­tions ac­knowl­edged that “none of these [ap­pro­pri­a­tions] bills is an easy lift,” not­ing un­re­solved dis­putes over boost­ing Pen­tagon spend­ing and on cutting fund­ing for Oba­macare, the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice and the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.

Still, both sides in­sisted they could get it done be­fore gov­ern­ment fund­ing runs out April 28, just four days after Congress re­turns from a spring break.

The ne­go­ti­a­tions have been pro­ceed­ing while Congress is out. No break­throughs have been re­ported.

Amid the on­go­ing talks, White House of­fi­cials de­clined to dis­cuss a pos­si­ble shut­down or any plans to min­i­mize the im­pact on cit­i­zens if the gov­ern­ment closes down.

Democrats suc­ceeded in blam­ing the GOP the last time it hap­pened in 2013, when the gov­ern­ment closed down for 16 days over Repub­li­can moves to end Oba­macare.

La­bor­ing to avoid another shut­down, Repub­li­cans are pre­pared to trim back Pres­i­dent Trump’s agenda to win sup­port from Democrats.

The party lead­ers need Democrats’ votes to not only clear the nar­rowly di­vided Se­nate but also the House, where the con­ser­va­tive Free­dom Cau­cus threat­ens a re­peat of the re­volt against GOP lead­er­ship that sunk an at­tempt last month to re­peal and re­place Oba­macare.

The stand­off puts in jeop­ardy sev­eral of Mr. Trump’s cam­paign prom­ises in the fund­ing pack­age that will cover the re­main­ing six months of the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. His push to slash do­mes­tic spend­ing and boost mil­i­tary spend­ing, and his prom­ise to de­fund Planned Par­ent­hood, to rein in the Con­sumer Fi­nan­cial Pro­tec­tion Bu­reau and to pun­ish sanc­tu­ary ci­ties, are all on the bar­gain­ing ta­ble.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Demo­crat, has warned that any “poi­son pill” pol­icy riders would gal­va­nize his mem­bers to de­feat the pack­age.

Repub­li­cans, who con­trol both cham­bers of Congress and the White House, in­sisted that the Democrats don’t have as much lever­age as they claim.

“It’s go­ing to be a com­pro­mise,” said a Repub­li­can in­volved in the process. “No­body is go­ing to pla­cate the Democrats. It’s go­ing to be a Repub­li­can pack­age.”

Congress could push back the dead­line with a short-term fund­ing bill, giv­ing them­selves a week or two to iron out any dif­fer­ences. But the Pen­tagon has warned against a short-term mea­sure be­cause it could de­lay new pro­grams and re­duce bud­get flex­i­bil­ity needed for fight­ing wars.

Whether it gets a vote next week or soon there­after, Repub­li­cans need a long-term spend­ing pack­age that is ac­cept­able to enough Democrats to get it across the fin­ish line and to Mr. Trump’s desk.

The po­ten­tial for a shut­down in­creased when Mr. Trump last week threat­ened to cut off crit­i­cal Oba­macare pay­ments to in­sur­ers un­less Democrats agree to en­ter talks about re­peal­ing and re­plac­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act.

“If Congress doesn’t ap­prove it, or if I don’t ap­prove it, that would mean that Oba­macare doesn’t have enough money, so it dies im­me­di­ately as op­posed to over a pe­riod of time,” Mr. Trump told The Wall Street Jour­nal.

The cost-shar­ing pay­ments, which to­taled about $7 bil­lion last year, are crit­i­cal to the sur­vival of Oba­macare. With­out the pay­ments, plans would likely drop out or raise their pre­mi­ums across the board.

Democrats sig­naled that they think Mr. Trump is cor­nered on the “cost shar­ing” pay­ments that were de­signed to help in­sur­ance com­pa­nies cover losses from low-in­come cus­tomers.

A fed­eral court in­val­i­dated the pay­ments, say­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion spent the money even though Congress specif­i­cally stripped the funds from its an­nual spend­ing bills. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion nev­er­the­less con­tin­ued to dis­trib­ute the funds while the case is ap­pealed.

If Congress puts the money into the new spend­ing bill, it likely would spell vic­tory for the ap­peal by Oba­macare sup­port­ers, re­mov­ing the un­der­pin­ning of the orig­i­nal rul­ing.

Re­fus­ing to in­clude the “cost shar­ing” pay­ments likely would help unify Capi­tol Hill Democrats in op­po­si­tion to the fund­ing pack­age and has­ten a gov­ern­ment shut­down.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Even though Congress is cur­rently out of ses­sion, Repub­li­can and Demo­crat lead­ers are work­ing to head off a shut­down be­fore gov­ern­ment fund­ing runs out.

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