House and Senate Republicans are hoping President Trump can help them ease the passage of a critical spending deal for fiscal year 2018 that faces possible derailment by both conservatives and Democrats.
Trump has scheduled a high-stakes meeting on Thursday with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as well as top Republican leaders, to negotiate.
Federal funding expires Friday, and a Trump-brokered agreement for the rest of the year would pave the way for the bipartisan passage of another short term spending measure needed to keep the government operating past Friday’s deadline.
A faction of conservatives in the House are threatening to oppose the short-term bill needed by Friday. But an agreement between top Democrats, Republicans and the president would ensure House passage despite some conservative opposition, and it would guarantee Senate passage, where Democrats are needed to pass most legislation.
“What I hope for is a process whereby we get top line numbers so we can actually finish this spending process,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a top appropriator, said on Wednesday when asked about the bipartisan White House meeting.
The fiscal year started Oct. 1, but lawmakers have been unable to strike a deal on full-year spending, and instead choose to pass the short-term deal that expires Friday.
With just a few days left before funding expires, House Republicans are already working to pass a short-term spending bill. They're planning a Thursday vote on a bill to fund the government until Dec. 22.
But GOP leaders are struggling to win over some fiscal conservatives to pass this plan. Conservatives are opposed to Congress passing short-term spending deals, which they believe are fiscally irresponsible and give Democrats the upper hand in negotiations.
It wasn’t clear late Wednesday whether House Republicans would have enough votes to pass it without the help of House Democrats, who have not yet signaled which way they will vote.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., told the Washington Examiner that the measure will pass, with or without Democrats, but conservative opponents are skeptical.
“I think they are worried,” Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., who plans to vote against the measure, told the Washington Examiner.
Conservatives say the lack of a long-term plan on spending is part of the reason behind their refusal to vote for a two-week measure. A deal negotiated by Trump could solve that, lawmakers said Wednesday.
“I hope the other side is receptive to true negotiations and not my way or the highway," said Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y. “I don’t believe for a second that the president would be a my-way-or-the-highway guy. But we have certainly seen instances where Schumer is, but with all that said, no one wants to shut the government down.”
Schumer and Democrats have pledged to oppose a spending bill that does not include language that would legalize young people who came to the United States illegally as children, although Schumer signaled he’d at least back the two-week spending deal while a longer-term plan is worked out.
Bipartisan efforts to broker a deal on so-called Dreamers have fallen apart, mostly because Democrats are refusing to back funding for a southern border wall, which is a top Trump administration priority.
As a result, the potential tradeoff between border security and Dreamer protection that was once seen as a way to get both parties to agree has now become a hurdle. Republicans are now refusing to include Dreamer language in the spending legislation and are instead pushing consideration of the matter to January.
Meanwhile, both parties are jockeying for political leverage ahead of the White House meeting. President Trump on Wednesday warned that Democrats are threatening to shut down the government with their insistence on including one-sided immigration language in the spending legislation.
“Democrats are really looking at something very dangerous for our country,” Trump said. “They are looking at shutting down, they want to have illegal immigrants, in many cases people that we don't want in our country.”
Pelosi retorted on Twitter that “President Trump is the only person talking about a government shutdown.”
She added, “Democrats are hopeful the president will be open to an agreement to address the urgent needs of the American people and keep government open.”
For now, Republicans are planning a multi-step approach to funding the remainder of the fiscal year.
If the Dec. 22 bill passes, Republicans plan to draft a second short-term bill that would probably last until some time in January, accompanied by a bill that funds defense for all of fiscal 2018. The plan also includes extra money for states and territories damaged by hurricanes and wildfires, an appropriations aide said.
There is no guarantee any of the legislation would pass, particularly in the Senate, where Democrats are likely to refuse full funding for the military without a deal on domestic spending.
Cole said that is where the White House meeting comes in. Republicans are having difficulty planning beyond Dec. 22 because they are struggling to strike a deal with Democrats on full fiscal 2018 spending.
“Everything hinges on all sides coming up with a common set of numbers so you can actually negotiate the appropriations bills,” Cole said. “You would hope it would be tomorrow, but it probably won’t.”
White House meetings with the two parties have in the past rarely produced a spending deal, but in this instance, both parties are eager to escape a shutdown showdown, which has become increasingly unpopular with the public.
Collins, a close ally of Trump’s, predicted the president will outline the options and get feedback.
“I suspect he will put it all on the table,” Collins said. “But you have to have a dialogue coming back the other way of what might be acceptable, or some lines in the sand that aren’t. You might as well figure that out tomorrow, and not the following day."