WASHINGTON (AP) — A bitter fight over funding for border fencing is imperiling Capitol Hill efforts to forge progress on more than $1.4 trillion worth of overdue spending bills, one of the few areas in which divided government in Washington has been able to deliver results in the Trump era.
Poisonous political fallout from the ongoing impeachment battle isn’t helping matters. While it appears likely that lawmakers will prevent a government shutdown next month with a government-wide stopgap spending bill, there has been little progress, if any, on the tricky trade-offs needed to balance Democratic demands for social programs with President Donald Trump’s ballooning border wall demands.
Even an expected Senate vote on Thursday to pass a $209 billion bundle of four bipartisan spending bills isn’t regarded as much progress, especially since it will be followed by a Democratic filibuster of a massive Pentagon spending bill.
At issue are the agency appropriations bills that Congress passes each year to keep the government running. A hard-won budget and debt deal this summer produced a top-line framework for the 12 yearly spending bills, but filling in the details is proving difficult.
Democrats say White House demands for $5 billion for Trump’s long-sought U.S.-Mexico border wall have led the GOP-controlled Senate to shortchange Democratic domestic priorities.
They say negotiations can’t begin in earnest until spending hikes permitted under the July budget deal are allocated among the 12 appropriations subcommittees more to their liking. Trump is demanding a huge border funding increase that comes mostly at the expense of a major health and education spending bill.
“I am not optimistic,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. “I don’t see the Senate taking action that would enable us to have an active negotiation with them. They haven’t set the groundwork. And until they figure out the (subcommittee allocations) — although we are having very nice conversations — I don’t see progress.”
Current stopgap spending authority expires Nov. 21 and another measure will be needed to prevent a shutdown reprising last year’s 35-day partial shuttering of the government. All sides want to avert a repeat shutdown, but it can’t be entirely ruled out because of the dysfunction and bitterness engulfing Washington these days.
Staff discussions on a new stopgap continuing resolution, or CR in Capitol Hill shorthand, haven’t yielded agreement yet. Democrats, including Lowey, have floated the idea of a stopgap CR into February, which would likely punt the budget battle past any Senate impeachment trial.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is pressing for a CR of shorter duration in hopes of wrapping up the unfinished budget work by Christmas.