President Trump this week has doubled down on his demand that Congress provide initial funding for his administration to begin construction on a wall across the U.S.-Mexico border, reestablishing the battle lines upon which the upcoming government shutdown fight will be waged.
Trump sent a letter to congressional leaders on Monday requesting a budget amendment for an additional $5.9 billion for the Defense Department in fiscal 2018. The letter also reiterated the president’s call for $1.6 billion for the border wall, something Democrats have repeatedly called a non-starter. Federal agencies are currently operating under a continuing resolution that did not include any spending for wall construction. The stopgap measure is set to expire Dec. 8.
The defense spending would go toward enhancements to “counter the threat” posed by North Korea, Navy ship repairs and to deploy an additional 3,500 troops to south Asia. Trump also repeated the request from his fiscal 2018 budget blueprint calling for $1.6 billion for Customs and Border Protection to begin building the wall.
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“Providing for the safety and security of the American people is my top priority,” Trump wrote. “That priority is reflected in both the enclosed DOD budget amendments and the border wall request, which provides the down payment on what CBP needs to secure the southwest border.”
The president threatened to shut down the government in August over border wall funding before ultimately signing the CR. Trump included in his letter a memorandum from Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who suggested the president “reiterate” to Congress his desire for border wall funding.
Democrats have not to date shown any inclination to vote for any measure approving wall funding, calling it ineffective policy and wasteful spending. Matt Dennis, spokesman for Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee, reiterated that view on Tuesday and said Trump will have to rethink his stance if he wants to secure any Democratic votes on a forthcoming spending bill.
“Donald Trump contradicts Donald Trump almost daily, so it’s hard to know exactly what he will do,” Dennis said. “All we can do as Dems is make it clear that we’re not going to vote to waste $1.6 billion on a useless, immoral wall.”
Dennis noted that Republicans have depended on Democratic votes on nearly every spending bill since they took control of the House in 2011: “And we expect our votes will be needed to enact appropriations law, just as they are every year.”
The wall is just one issue that could upend negotiations for a broader spending agreement, even if lawmakers and the White House agree to another stopgap measure to tide agencies over into the new calendar year. Congressional negotiators must still agree to a deal that would lift spending caps instituted by the 2011 Budget Control Act. Democrats have so far remained steadfast that any increase to defense spending, as Trump called for both in his budget blueprint and in this week’s budget amendment, must be met with equal increases for non-defense agencies.
The minority party has also suggested it could fight to shore up the health care marketplace for individuals by authorizing cost-sharing reduction payments in a spending package.
"We are going to have a very good opportunity in the omnibus to get this done in a bipartisan way, if we can’t get it done sooner,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said last month after Trump announced he was ending the payments.
Democrats are also looking to reach an agreement to ensure children brought into the United States by undocumented parents are spared from deportation. Those enrolled in a program launched by President Obama called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival were protected from removal, but Trump ended that program in September. He delayed implementation of the end date by six months to give Congress time to reach an alternative solution. Democrats have floated the idea of holding up appropriations bills going forward until the DACA issue is resolved, but Republicans have said it must be handled separately.