After years in a defensive crouch fending off government shutdown threats, Democrats are now indicating they may shutter agencies and send a large portion of the federal workforce home without pay.
Funding for proposals imperative to President Trump’s agenda could lead to an appropriations standoff, Democratic leadership told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in a letter. In some cases, Democrats expressed concern over proposed spending increases, a departure from the usual inflection point of cuts. Funding for Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and an influx of cash for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to eventually triple the size of its workforce would reduce the chances of the spending bills earning Democratic support.
“We hope our Republican colleagues will work with us in a bipartisan way so that the appropriations process meets the needs of the American people,” said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. He added, however, that if Republicans insist on funding the wall and addressing other controversial priorities, “they will be shutting down the government and delivering a severe blow to our economy.”
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Federal agencies are operating under a continuing resolution that will keep them funded through April 28. Lawmakers can fund the government through September in an omnibus spending bill, or issue another short-term measure. They could also opt to keep the status quo in place for the remainder of fiscal 2017 with another five-month continuing resolution.
A Senate Appropriations Committee aide said the panel is listening to input from Republicans, Democrats and the Trump administration, and it is making good progress towards completing its work for fiscal 2017. The American people are not well served by a government shutdown, the aide added.
In addition to the immigration issues, the Democrats said common “poison pill” riders could doom any such spending measure. Those issues include defunding Planned Parenthood, rolling back environmental protections and restricting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
“We strongly oppose the inclusion of any such riders in any of the must-pass appropriations bills that fund the government,” the senators wrote. Any spending bill would likely require 60 votes in the Senate for passage, meaning at least eight members of the Democratic caucus would have to lend their support.
In their letter, the Democratic leaders called Trump’s proposed ICE buildup a “deportation force” and said it would be inappropriate to fund it and the wall in the forthcoming spending bill.
“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,” they wrote. They criticized the administration for a lack of details on the design and construction of the wall, and said it would cost up to $25 billion.
The Democrats pledged to work with Republicans to “complete action on bipartisan legislation to fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year.”