Congress Considers Delaying Spending Talks Until After Impeachment
(Bloomberg) — Democrats and Republicans in Congress are deliberating whether to push the deadline to fund the government into early February to avoid having a budget fight amid an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump that’s set to stretch at least into December.
That would mean enacting another stopgap spending bill to avert a government shutdown when the current short-term funding runs out Nov. 21, assuming the two sides don’t be able to agree on a budget plan by then.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, a Republican, has floated the idea of a stopgap spending bill until February, though he said Wednesday he hasn’t discussed it with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“I think that’s a pretty realistic assessment of where we are today,” said Shelby of Alabama. “Miracles do happen but I haven’t seen a lot of them around here.”
House Democrats on the Appropriations Committee are also weighing a February stopgap, lawmakers and aides say.
Trump’s insistence on funding a wall on the southern border is again hanging over funding decisions in Congress, as Democrats and Republicans negotiate 12 annual spending bills. An impasse over the border wall led to a 35-day partial government shutdown early this year. After it ended, Trump used emergency powers to raid military construction accounts to fund the wall.
When Shelby floated the idea of a stopgap bill until February, he said impeachment would “take the oxygen” out of the Capitol. But Democratic Representative David Price, a member of the Appropriations panel, said Trump’s continued demand for money to build a border wall is the problem.
“Shelby can blame impeachment all he wants but it is their allocations that is standing in the way,” Price of North Carolina said. “If not for this wall issue we could get this done tomorrow.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are said to oppose a long stopgap in order to try to force a spending deal sooner. Hoyer wrote to McConnell on Tuesday to urge immediate talks on spending.
Republicans want to replenish the $7 billion in military funds that Trump redirected toward construction of the border wall, and Democrats say they won’t refill those accounts without provisions to guard against future shifting of funds. Senate Republicans also are seeking $5 billion in new money for the wall.
This already delicate negotiation is further complicated by the impeachment process that has enraged Trump and heightened partisan acrimony on Capitol Hill.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer said Tuesday he was worried that Trump could use the Nov. 21 deadline to provoke a shutdown to distract from impeachment.
”I’m increasingly worried that President Trump will want to shut down the government again because of impeachment,” Schumer said. “He always likes to create diversions.”
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Republicans and Democrats in Congress say they don’t want another government shutdown, although they also said that when government funding ran out at the end of 2018. The Senate and the House, both led by the GOP at the time, were on the brink of a deal in December when Trump persuaded House Republicans to hold out for wall funding.
The House has already passed its 12 appropriations bills, and the Senate this week is on track to pass a package of four spending bills that would fund Interior and Environment; Commerce, Justice and Science; Transportation, Housing and Urban Development; and Agriculture. This Senate measure would need to be reconciled with the House versions to become law.
The most important thing for spending committee leaders is to agree on the topline allocation of spending for all government agencies. Senate Democrats say they’ll block debate on the annual Defense spending bill, the top GOP priority, until they reach a deal on total allocations.
“This week will bring a litmus test: are Washington Democrats so concerned by impeachment that they cannot even fund our men and women in uniform?” McConnell said Tuesday. “It’s hard to imagine a more basic legislative responsibility than funding the Department of Defense.”
–With assistance from Jack Fitzpatrick.
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