Republicans in Congress are indicating they will deal with President Trump’s request to cut a total of $18 billion from most non-defense agencies separately from the looming shutdown fight, saying they will handle the White House’s funding proposal another time.
Federal agencies are funded on a continuing resolution through April 28, at which point lawmakers must pass another spending bill or the government would shut down. Trump has asked for an extra $30 billion for the Defense Department to spend by Sept. 30 -- the end of fiscal 2017 -- and $3 billion for the Homeland Security Department. The White House proposed partially paying for the surge by slashing $18 billion from the discretionary coffers of domestic agencies.
Such a hit with just five months to absorb it would wreak havoc across the government, with agencies likely turning to continued hiring freezes and furloughs to meet the reduced funding levels. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of Senate leadership and the Appropriations Committee, said on Tuesday that Congress is hammering out an omnibus spending bill, and he guessed it “comes together better without the supplemental.”
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Bipartisan, bicameral committee leadership is “working together to try to finalize the rest of the FY17 bill,” Blunt said. The goal is to provide agencies “a full year update and then deal with the supplemental at a later time.” He added negotiators were “not there yet,” but “very close.”
While Congress has a month to come up with a spending bill, it will go on recess from April 8 through April 23. Blunt said he hoped to make significant progress next week before the recess begins.
The DHS funding increase would go toward constructing a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, increasing detention capacity and completing the initial steps in Trump’s proposed hiring surge at Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Declining to provide that spending would set up a potential showdown with the White House, which is looking to quickly make progress on some of Trump’s signature proposals. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer declined to say whether Trump would accept a spending bill that did not include funding for the border wall.
“I’m not going to get into the specific details,” Spicer said Wednesday. “We will continue to work with Congress on how to move forward with the rest of the FY17 budget.”
Senate Democrats have threatened to shut down the government if the spending bill includes funding for Trump’s immigration enforcement and border security priorities, such as the wall. Another perennial sticking point for Democrats could also stay out of the spending fight, with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., saying Tuesday Congress should find another avenue aside from the appropriations process to defund Planned Parenthood.
“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,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said earlier this month. 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.”
One area of bipartisan agreement is to complete the appropriations process for the remainder of the fiscal year without resorting to another short-term measure that puts agency spending on autopilot.
“There’s not desire for a CR,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday. “Democrats and Republicans are working together on this, and we fully anticipate getting an outcome on this by the end of April.”
Just before ending his press conference with reporters, he added, “We have to, actually.”