Trump backs off bor­der wall, re­duc­ing risk of shut­down

Vows to find fund­ing

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY S.A. MILLER AND TOM HOW­ELL JR.

Con­gres­sional ne­go­tia­tors closed in on a spend­ing deal Tues­day af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump backed off his de­mand for bor­der wall fund­ing, saying he doesn’t need an im­me­di­ate in­fu­sion of cash for the project, clear­ing the way for Capi­tol Hill to hash out a bill that avoids an end-of-week govern­ment shut­down.

The shift in strat­egy at the White House raised doubt about fund­ing for the rest of Mr. Trump’s agenda. Repub­li­can ne­go­tia­tors fo­cused on get­ting in­creased mil­i­tary spend­ing, a top pri­or­ity for the pres­i­dent, but lit­tle else in the bargain with Democrats.

In ex­change for the mil­i­tary buildup, Democrats want cru­cial Oba­macare pay­ments and other non­de­fense spend­ing, in­clud­ing full fund­ing for agen­cies such as the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency that Mr. Trump vowed to cut.

Mr. Trump in­sisted that there would be enough fund­ing to get started on plans for a wall on the bor­der with Mexico, which is one of his most prom­i­nent prom­ises from the cam­paign.

“The wall is go­ing to get built, by the way,” he told re­porters at a White House event with farm­ers, adding that it would get built “soon.”

“We’re al­ready pre­par­ing. We’re do­ing plans. We’re do­ing spec­i­fi­ca­tions. We’re do­ing a lot of work on the wall, and the wall gets built,” he said. “The wall is very, very im­por­tant.”

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the spend­ing bill would re­flect the pres­i­dent’s pri­or­i­ties.

“We’ve made our pri­or­i­ties very clear as we con­tinue to ne­go­ti­ate. And I think noth­ing has changed on the pres­i­dent’s pri­or­i­ties,” he said.

The bill un­der ne­go­ti­a­tion would fund the govern­ment for the re­main­der of the fis­cal year that ends Sept. 30. The pres­i­dent then would look to get his pri­or­i­ties ad­dressed in the spend­ing bill for the next fis­cal year.

The fund­ing for the wall had be­come a ma­jor stick­ing point in ne­go­ti­a­tions with Democrats. They called it a “poi­son pill.”

De­spite Repub­li­cans hav­ing con­trol of the White House and both cham­bers of Congress, the nar­row party divi­sion in the Se­nate gives the Demo­cratic mi­nor­ity the abil­ity to cause a govern­ment shut­down, and they’ve ar­gued that they would only do so if pro­voked by Repub­li­cans.

“I want to say that it’s re­ally good news that Pres­i­dent Trump seems to be tak­ing the wall off the ta­ble in the ne­go­ti­a­tions we’re hav­ing on an ap­pro­pri­a­tions bill this week,” Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Demo­crat, said on the Se­nate floor.

He said any in­crease in de­fense spend­ing had to be matched with the same level of in­crease in do­mes­tic spend­ing, a tra­di­tional de­mand from Democrats.

Some of the spend­ing items he put at the top of the Democrats’ wish list in­cluded the Oba­macare pay­ments, an ex­ten­sion of health care cov­er­age for min­ers and mea­sures to deal with Puerto Rico’s bud­get cri­sis.

“There are other is­sues to re­solve as well, but I’m hope­ful we can ad­dress them as the week moves for­ward,” said Mr. Schumer. “Poi­son pill rid­ers are some­thing that could re­ally hurt the bill, and we don’t want that to hap­pen.”

Some of these is­sues have bi­par­ti­san sup­port, such as tak­ing care of the min­ers.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can, came out in sup­port of a fix for the min­ers, who are an im­por­tant con­stituency in his state.

Mr. McCon­nell also said that the chief im­ped­i­ment to a deal has been Mr. Schumer’s re­fusal to talk to the White House.

“There have been some chal­lenges in get­ting Sen. Schumer to in­ter­act with the White House. I’ve had no prob­lems with the White House,” he said.

The big­gest re­main­ing ob­sta­cle to a deal was the Democrats’ de­mand that the spend­ing pack­age in­clude Oba­macare pay­ments to in­sur­ers.

Demo­cratic ne­go­tia­tors from the House and Se­nate are in­sist­ing on lan­guage that per­ma­nently funds the pay­ments known as “cost-shar­ing re­duc­tions.”

The pay­ments re­im­burse in­sur­ers for pay­ing the out-of-pocket costs of low-in­come con­sumers on Oba­macare’s web-based ex­changes.

House Repub­li­cans ze­roed out fund­ing for the cost-shar­ing re­duc­tions in past years and won a law­suit saying the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was un­law­fully mak­ing the pay­ments with­out per­mis­sion from Congress.

Mr. Trump has threat­ened to cut off the pay­ments by drop­ping an ap­peal of that de­ci­sion, which al­lowed pay­ments to pro­ceed on au­topi­lot for now, saying it will force Democrats to ne­go­ti­ate a health care over­haul.

House Mi­nor­ity Whip Steny H. Hoyer said that with health care for 7 mil­lion Amer­i­cans on the line, it was Mr. Trump’s duty to re­im­burse in­sur­ers as pre­scribed by the 2010 Af­ford­able Care Act.

“In my view, it’s not part of some quid pro quo from them to us. It is the law. It ought to be done,” said the Mary­land Demo­crat.

The non­par­ti­san Kaiser Fam­ily Foun­da­tion crunched the numbers and es­ti­mated that tax­pay­ers’ costs would ac­tu­ally rise by $2.3 bil­lion if the cost-shar­ing pay­ments were elim­i­nated.

Though some in­sur­ers might just exit the mar­ket­place, those who choose to re­main must cover low-in­come con­sumers’ costs whether they’re re­im­bursed or not, so they would likely hike their pre­mi­ums by an av­er­age of 19 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the foun­da­tion.

Oba­macare’s tax­payer-funded sub­si­dies would have to keep pace with soar­ing pre­mi­ums, re­sult­ing in more spend­ing.

As­sum­ing sim­i­lar en­roll­ment and sub­sidy up­take in 2018 as in this year, Kaiser es­ti­mated the govern­ment would have to pay out $12.3 bil­lion in ad­di­tional sub­sidy pay­ments, out­weigh­ing the $10 bil­lion saved by ax­ing the cost-shar­ing re­duc­tions.

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