This week: Democrats, White House set for infrastructure, budget talks

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Democrats are set to sit down with the White House this week to try to make progress toward separate deals on an infrastructure package and raising the budget caps.

The talks come as lawmakers are expected to leave town by Friday for the weeklong Memorial Day recess, returning to Washington in early June.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) will meet with President Trump Wednesday as they try to hash out an agreement on a $2 trillion package to overhaul the country’s infrastructure.

{mosads}The meeting is a follow-up to an April meeting where both sides agreed to the top-line figure but have yet to resolve major differences to a potential deal, including how to pay for it or what it would go toward.

A Senate aide said they expect Trump to use the meeting to “present his plans for how to pay for a $2 trillion infrastructure plan.”

Schumer had pitched, during last month’s meeting, having the federal government pay for 80 percent of a project while local governments picked up 20 percent of the tab, while also including a public-private partnership element.

Trump did not accept that idea, but said he would consider his own funding routes, Schumer said. A source familiar with the matter noted that Trump expressed opposition during the meeting to public-private partnerships as part of an agreement.

Infrastructure has long been viewed as an area of potential bipartisan agreement during the increasingly partisan Trump era, even though divisions remain on how to pay for it.

Schumer and Pelosi will also join Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in a meeting this week with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to discuss a budget deal and the looming debt ceiling.

White House staffers have been negotiating with McConnell and Pelosi aides in recent weeks after McConnell announced last month that they had agreed to start staff-level talks aimed at getting a two-year deal.

The decision to kick it up to the principles comes as lawmakers have been sounding the alarm about the need to keep the government open, with current funding set to expire at the end of September. They’ll also need to raise the debt ceiling later this year to avoid defaulting, with the Treasury Department expected to be able to extend the deadline until September or October.

Mulvaney met with McConnell on Thursday to discuss spending and amid growing concerns on Capitol Hill about avoiding across-the-board cuts known as sequestration. Unless lawmakers reach a deal on spending, about $120 billion in automatic cuts to defense and domestic programs would go into effect under sequestration.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) indicated on Thursday that leadership was trying to set up a meeting with the White House.

“What could come out of it is an agreement, where we can move our approps, a number,” Shelby said, asked by The Hill what could come out of the White House talks. “Or nothing could come out if, you’ve been here, you’ve seen.”

Medicare for All

The House Budget Committee is slated to hold a hearing on single-payer health care Wednesday.

It’s the second hearing — the first having been held by the House Rules Committee last month — related to “Medicare for All,” a top priority for the left flank of the Democratic party.

The hearing is expected to have a focus on the budget implications, featuring testimony from three Congressional Budget Office (CBO) officials.

Top Democrats, including Pelosi, have not come out in full support of the measure, expressing concerns over the estimated $30 trillion cost.

Republicans have been eager for the hearing to take place, seeing it as a winning issue in the messaging strategy. They’ve been quick to attack Medicare for All, using it while attempting to cast Democrats as moving further to the left.

“House Budget Republicans are looking forward to speaking with CBO about the risks of imposing a one-size-fits-all, government-run health care system, including higher taxes, fewer choices, and worse care,” Lauren Blair Aronson, a spokeswoman for the panel’s Republicans said in a statement following the announcement of the hearing.

“The American people deserve to know not only how a proposal like Medicare-for-All will affect our budget and economy, but also how it will affect them personally.”

Disaster aid

The Senate is expected to vote on a disaster aid bill before leaving town, regardless of whether or not negotiators can reach a deal.

McConnell warned last week that he would bring up legislation meant to respond to a recent spate of storms, hurricanes and wildfires before the Memorial Day recess after it stalled last month.

“I hope it’s a vote on a deal that has been reached by both sides of the aisle and the White House. If not, we will be having a vote because I’m not going to be sending members of either party home to these storm- and flood-ravaged states without at least some action,” he said.

The House passed its own disaster package earlier this month, but the Senate’s legislation derailed in early April after Trump criticized Puerto Rico’s handling of previous recovery money during a closed-door lunch with Senate Republicans.

Negotiators have been swapping offers and appeared close to a deal late last week, with lawmakers indicating that the fight over additional aid to Puerto Rico was largely settled.

Shelby, who has been leading the talks, told reporters that “we’re closer than we’ve ever been.”

Two additional issues had cropped up as last-minute roadblocks to a potential agreement: The administration’s $4.5 billion emergency request for the border and harbor maintenance funding, which is important to Shelby.

But congressional Democrats made an offer late Thursday that included billions in humanitarian assistance tied to the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Democrats recognize that there are serious humanitarian needs at the border,” an aide said. “We gave congressional Republicans a thoughtful offer to address those needs.”

The aide added that the new offer from Democrats excludes parts of the administration’s request that they view as “non-starters,” including request for increasing Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds.


The Senate is set to confirm another slate of Trump’s judicial nominees, including a 9th Circuit pick that is opposed by their home-state senators.

The Senate set to vote on Monday evening to end debate on Daniel Collins’s nomination to be an appeals judge for the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit.

The influential court has been a perennial antagonist for conservatives, who consider it too large and too liberal. It’s acted as a foil for some of Trump’s most controversial policies, including ruling against the travel ban and an effort to cut off federal funding for so-called sanctuary cities.

Collins, if confirmed, will be the second 9th Circuit pick confirmed for a California seat despite neither home-state Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, nor Kamala Harris, a 2020 contender, returning their “blue slip,” a piece of paper which indicates if they support the nomination.

The blue-slip rule — a precedent upheld by Senate tradition — has allowed a home-state senator to stop a lower-court nominee by refusing to return a sheet of paper, known as a blue slip, to the Judiciary Committee.

But how strictly the precedent is upheld is decided by the Judiciary Committee chairman and enforcement has fluctuated depending on who wields the gavel on the panel.

In addition to Collins, the Senate will vote on several district nominations including Howard Nielson to be a judge for the District of Utah, Stephen Clark to be a judge for the Eastern District of Missouri, Kenneth Bell to be a judge for the Western District of North Carolina and Carl Nichols to be a judge for the District of Columbia.


The House is slated to vote on the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act, better known as the SECURE Act, this week.

The bill — spearheaded by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) — includes language aimed at easing the process for companies to offer retirement plans and taxpayers to save for their retirement.

“Americans currently face a retirement income crisis, with too many people in danger of not having enough savings to maintain their standard of living and avoid sliding into poverty. The SECURE Act goes a long way in addressing this problem by making it easier for Americans to save,” Neal said in a statement after it passed out of committee.

“Passage of this bill is a tremendous bipartisan accomplishment, and I hope to see the measure move through Congress and be signed into law in short order. In particular, I’d also like to recognize Congressman Kind’s important contributions to this legislation; today’s success is the culmination of his years of work on this issue.”

A manager’s amendment also led by Neal would correct a mistake in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that unintentionally raised taxes on military survivor benefits provided to children.

The House Rules Committee is expected to meet Monday on the legislation.

Tags budget caps Charles Schumer Dianne Feinstein Donald Trump Infrastructure Kevin McCarthy Medicare for all Mick Mulvaney Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Ninth Circuit Richard Neal Richard Shelby Steven Mnuchin

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