The bottom line, however, is that there is no deal. There is no agreement. The full details of this, according to sources involved in this process, haven’t even been put onto paper yet. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have hammered through the final outstanding pieces of the ongoing talks. Now they need everyone else involved to agree with its structure — and the clock is ticking.
It’s also worth noting President Donald Trump has not signed off on this yet, per two people involved.
Going to repeat this again, because in the end, this may be all that matters: Trump has not signed off on anything yet.
Pelosi and Mnuchin have been racing against the clock to get something agreed to, and voted on, in the House of Representatives before the end of this week. The urgency was sparked by Treasury Department projections that US may run out of money in early September, which would be before, or just days after, lawmakers returned from their August recess.
But any long-term agreement to raise, or in this case suspend, the debt ceiling was always also going to have to address the looming $126 billion in automatic spending cuts set to take effect in January.
The draft agreement would do both of those things, seemingly addressing the desire on both sides of the aisle to take a potential self-imposed, and catastrophic, crisis off their plates.
But the broad outlines have long been understood and, generally, agreed upon. It’s the details that have taken days to iron out — and still haven’t been locked in yet.
The final sticking points
There have been two major outstanding issues that have been at the crux of the talks between Pelosi and Mnuchin.
First, how much of the agreement, which would significantly boost spending over two years, would be offset. The White House told Democrats at least $150 billion would need to be paid for, and sent $574 billion in possible spending cuts to get there. Democrats rejected that idea. Sources say Democrats have won the day on this — there will be a limited number of offsets, but they don’t come in the form of spending cuts and would mostly take place in out years, which could be reversed in future agreements. CNN’s Sarah Westwood reports it became clear to the White House its menu of options wasn’t received well and they’d be unlikely to get what they requested.
The second sticking point will be on riders and transfer authority. The administration has been steadfast on receiving a commitment that Democrats not attempt to add policy restrictions onto spending bills, and most notably, would not be able to block or restrict transfer funding for the border wall. Sources say this hasn’t been finalized yet, but it’s being presented as if this would be what the White House would get in exchange for the limited off-sets.
To be clear however — the deal being hashed out isn’t final, sources involved said. The structure of what is being circulated right now isn’t all that different than where negotiators have been for a few days. It’s whether the above sticking points are resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Then it’s about what ends up on paper.
In other words, there are a lot of steps to go here. But this is the last real shot at a sweeping deal given the timeline lawmakers are working on.
What to watch today
- Whether all parties sign off on the proposed agreement.
Pelosi made clear throughout last week she wanted an agreement by the end of the week in order to process and move legislation through the House before it departs on July 26 for five weeks.
In reality, the House (unlike the Senate), can move very quickly on legislation when it’s under the gun. That’s not the preferred route, especially on an agreement of this scope and scale, but it’s possible.
Needless to say, negotiators want something agreed upon, made public and turned into legislation as quickly as possible to lock in a House vote before Friday.
The structure of this potential agreement will upset members on both sides of the aisle — and a certain powerful component of the White House negotiating team.
For Pelosi and Democrats, limiting any authority to restrict or block administration policy priorities through the appropriations process is a big deal, and a tough pill for members, particularly progressive members, to swallow.
That said, the spending increases on the domestic side are a big deal — and the lack of spending cuts to offset those is quite a win for Democrats as well.
Pelosi, sources say, has been working on laying the groundwork for this agreement with progressives in the caucus.
For Republicans and the White House, the lack of spending cuts to offset the cost of tens of billions in increased spending is going to cause elements of the House and Senate GOP conferences to automatically oppose any final agreement. That was likely always going to be the case, however, with the increases in defense spending serving as enough of a reason for enough Republicans to sign off and get it across the finish line. But that doesn’t account for the fact two key players inside the White House — acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought — have been sharply opposed to major domestic spending increases without offsets (or, to be honest, they’ve generally opposed the domestic increases period).
The big question, given where the opposition would come from on this, is whether the President will be on board. His signoff on anything would clinch the passage of any budget agreement. His opposition would be devastating.
If something finally does get locked in and turned into legislation, watch the House Republicans. Democrats could conceivably pass any agreement in their chamber without GOP help, but a mass House Republican revolt has people involved very concerned. The effect that could have on the President would be, in the words of one GOP source involved: “disastrous.”
This serves as a good way of making clear: this isn’t done yet. There are both policy details that are outstanding, political calculations still being made and whip counts that haven’t even started yet. The lead negotiators want something locked in as soon as possible. But it’s far from smooth sailing heading into a huge week.