GOP leaders think they have a plan to avoid a government shutdown right before the November elections.
Meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan presented a government spending strategy intended to minimize the threat of a politically debilitating government funding lapse over border wall funding. And Trump seemed receptive, according to lawmakers and aides briefed on the meeting.
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The Senate majority leader and House speaker laid out to Trump that they will prioritize less controversial bills before this fall’s Sept. 30 funding deadline. McConnell (R-Ky.) and Ryan (R-Wis.) hope to fund the majority of the government through the appropriations bill process by the end of September, and leave a brutal fight over border wall funding until later in the year.
Trump made clear to the GOP leaders that he still wants a $5 billion down payment on his wall this year, but he signaled to the leaders that he might be willing to wage that fight after the midterms. Though the House plans to pass a spending bill giving Trump $5 billion for the wall, Senate Democrats are unlikely to agree to fund more than the $1.6 billion initially requested by the Trump administration — meaning any attempt to fund the Department of Homeland Security could lead to a shutdown.
Moreover, agreeing to kick the wall fight past the election would be a major electoral boon to Republicans. Senate Republicans are hoping to pick up seats after confirming Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh this fall, while House Republicans are fighting to keep their majority; a government shutdown over the border wall could cripple GOP efforts to defend their majorities.
The Senate is hoping to finish nine of its 12 annual spending bills by the end of next week, leaving fights over funding bills for Department of Homeland Security, the State Department and the Commerce and Justice departments until the government shutdown deadline nears. The House has passed six of its annual funding bills.
Some parts of the government may need to be funded by stop-gap spending bills. And Congress could still risk smaller, department-specific shutdowns before the election under this strategy. But Republicans believe those fights would have far less resonance than a full government funding lapse a month before the election.
Republicans similarly isolated a fight over President Barack Obama’s immigration policies to Homeland Security in 2015, removing the possibility of a full shutdown.
The two chambers still need to work out differences on all of the spending bills that have passed each respective chamber. But if they can come to agreement on funding most of the government by mid-September, it would go a long way to satisfying Trump and his distaste of massive, last-minute spending bills. After signing an omnibus earlier this year, Trump vowed that he wouldn’t sign onto another.
Still, there are major questions about whether the Senate and House can agree on government spending levels and policy riders even if they defer the fight over border wall funding. Though the House can pass conservative-leaning spending bills with a simple majority, McConnell needs 10 Democratic votes or more to pass any more legislation.
McConnell told reporters that his session with Trump was “pretty much a routine meeting that the Speaker and I frequently have with the president to go over the legislative agenda.”