A demand for $5 billion in border wall funding could complicate efforts to provide a pay raise for federal workers in 2019.
President Trump said he will stand firm on his demand that Congress approve $5 billion in funding for his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, raising doubts about whether the government will remain fully open past Dec. 7.
Politico reported Wednesday that Trump considers that figure to be a “red line,” although the publication noted that Trump has repeatedly reversed course on ultimatums in previous budget negotiations.
Congress and the president have until Dec. 7 to approve a fiscal 2019 spending package that includes appropriations for the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, State, Interior, Agriculture, Treasury, Commerce, Homeland Security and Justice departments, among other agencies, or around 300,000 federal workers will face furloughs in a partial government shutdown.
Continued gridlock between Republicans and Democrats over how to fund these agencies means that lawmakers’ efforts to provide civilian federal employees with a 1.9 percent pay raise in 2019 remain in doubt. Before the midterm elections, Republican appropriators said they would agree to include the raise, but the provision would need to be enacted as part of the spending package by the end of this year in order to override Trump’s plan to freeze civilian pay.
The wall funding demand places the president severely at odds with congressional Democrats, who have offered $1.6 billion for “border security,” which could include fencing and other provisions unrelated to a wall. Politico reported that Trump specifically said all $5 billion of his ask must be spent on the wall itself.
“The number is larger for border security,” he told the publication.
Further complicating talks are a number of other riders that lawmakers have mulled attaching to the spending bill in recent days. Earlier this month, Senate Democrats suggested attaching to the must-pass bill a bipartisan measure designed to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from interference by the White House or Justice Department. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., threatened to withhold his vote for a spending bill until CIA Director Gina Haspel agrees to brief members of Congress about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi government operatives.
Despite Trump’s self-professed firmness in wanting $5 billion for his border wall, he also told The Washington Post on Wednesday that he’d be open to a “Plan B” to try to achieve his goals “another way.”
In the eyes of longtime budget analyst Stan Collender, Wednesday’s conflicting messages signal that Trump is not yet sure whether he is willing to trigger a government shutdown over the wall.
“The situation is somewhat different [from September, when Trump signed a continuing resolution] given the impending Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives in less than six weeks and the perception by many that this is Trump’s last chance to fund his wall,” Collender wrote. “But . . . it’s noteworthy that Trump seems to be just as conflicted about a shutdown now as he was back in September. He continues to be anything but resolute and is using very Hamlet-like conditional language (‘would’ and ‘could’ instead of ‘will’) to explain what he might do.”