GOP leaders have made clear they will not allow a shutdown ahead of the April 28 deadline
Current plans have money for Planned Parenthood and ACA but little for a border wall
After a week that saw President Donald Trump reverse course on several key campaign pledges, many congressional conservatives are bracing for another harsh reality: The President may soon sign a government spending bill that continues to fund two controversial programs he vowed to end and will lack adequate funding for one of his top campaign promises.
Time is ticking on an April 28 deadline when the government runs out of money. And bipartisan negotiators in the House and Senate are narrowing in on a final agreement that would continue to pour government dollars into Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act – two entities despised by conservatives – while not providing much, if any, money for Trump’s much-touted wall on the border with Mexico.
The GOP leaders who are spearheading talks with Democrats have made clear they will not allow a government shutdown on their watch and have signaled they intend to give ground on those hot-button issues to get the votes they need to pass the giant catch-all spending package.
“We are working on a collaborative basis, which in the first part of this administration has been kind of hard,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said last week. “I think we will be able to work that out and avoid any kind of government shutdown scenario in the end of April.”
Republicans know they will need Democratic votes in both chambers to keep the government operating. House conservatives who may be dissatisfied with the emerging deal – like those that make up the far-right and influential House Freedom Caucus – are unlikely to support a final agreement. That means Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, will need to lean on Democrats in his chamber to muscle a bill to passage.
In the Senate, the 52 Republicans will need to rely on at least eight Democrats to support the measure to give it the 60 votes it will need to advance.
The reversal of fortunes is a surprise and disappointment for Republicans who had vowed that if voters gave them unified control in Washington – the White House, Senate and House – the GOP would make good on longtime pledges on many of these issues. Defunding abortion provider Planned Parenthood and getting rid of Obamacare altogether were at the top of their lists.
But repealing Obamacare dramatically failed last month when Freedom Caucus members rejected a GOP leadership repeal bill as insufficient. That means funding for the health care reform law, much of it mandatory because of its Medicaid expansion, will likely continue until Republicans can settle their differences over repealing and replacing the health law.
One significant wrinkle on this issue arose last week when Trump threatened to discontinue paying health insurers subsidies that reduce out-of-pocket costs for lower-income consumers. Ending the payments, which are the subject of an unresolved court battle between House Republicans and the Obama administration, would likely prompt insurers to exit the marketplace. Trump floated the idea to get Democrats to the bargaining table on replacing Obamacare.
It’s unclear if Hill Republicans would agree not to appropriate the funds because it could hurt their constituents. But Democrats say they want to include the funding in the spending bill, a move bound to be met with resistance from conservatives.
On Planned Parenthood, Democrats vowed early on – as they have during past efforts by Republicans to strip money from the organization – that they would block any government spending proposal that stripped out the approximately $500 million in federal funds that goes to the organization each year. Ryan announced weeks ago they would shift the defunding issue to a budget reconciliation bill to ensure it would not lead to a government shutdown – but that reconciliation bill stalled amid the GOP failure to repeal Obamacare.
Anti-abortion forces on the Hill did get a boost on the issue last week when Trump signed a bill that allows states to withhold federal money from organizations that provide abortions, including Planned Parenthood. The law reverses an executive order signed by then-President Barack Obama that prohibited states from blocking federal funds to those organizations.
Building a massive border wall with Mexico could cost of tens of billions of dollars and Trump wants a down payment now as part of the government spending bill. The issue was one of his most talked about campaign promises, which included his vow to have Mexico pay for it.
Democrats consider the wall offensive and argue it can’t be built. In a recent letter to McConnell, they warned against adding it to the government funding package.
“We believe it would be inappropriate to insist on the inclusion of such funding in a must-pass appropriations bill that is needed for the Republican majority in control of the Congress to avert a government shutdown so early in President Trump’s administration,” said the letter signed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and other Democratic leaders.
Asked last week by a reporter if he supports the wall, McConnell replied with a careful eye toward the Democratic opposition to it.
“I am in favor of border security. Exactly how that is defined will be subject to negotiations with our Democratic colleagues, because in the Senate, they are players,” he said. “Nobody gets everything they want.”
A House Democratic leadership aide said wall funding is not in the bill now.
A House Republican aide close to the talks said negotiations continue over the border security issue and noted that some stepped up funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection may be acceptable to all sides.
Meantime, White House press secretary Sean Spicer is not saying if the President would block a bill that didn’t have enough border wall money in it.
“We’ve made very clear to Congress that the President’s priorities are increasing military spending and security for our border,” he said. “We’re going to continue to have conversations with Congress and we feel confident that they’ll do their job. But those conversations are ongoing.”
Congress returns to work from a two-week spring recess next Monday. They will have only until next Friday to reach and approve a deal.