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White House: Tentative deal reached on defense spending

White House: Tentative deal reached on defense spending
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeath toll in Northern California wildfire rises to 48: authorities Graham backs bill to protect Mueller Denham loses GOP seat in California MORE and congressional leaders reached a “tentative agreement” on Thursday to raise defense spending levels as part of a year-end government funding package, according to a White House official.

The leaders were “moving toward an agreement” on nondefense spending after a meeting in the Oval Office designed to resolve the contentious funding battle, the official said.

The official requested anonymity to discuss private conversations between Trump and the top four congressional leaders. 

Democrats don’t have nearly as optimistic view of the outcome of Thursday’s meeting, however.

Democratic leaders insist there cannot be a deal on the defense spending number without an agreement in tandem on spending for non-defense programs, a position they have long held.

Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham backs bill to protect Mueller Grassley defends acting AG against calls for recusal Former staffers push Congress for action on sexual harassment measure MORE (R-Ky.) had a less rosy assessment of how much progress had been made.

Asked if negotiators were any closer to a deal on the spending caps, McConnell replied, “I wouldn’t say that.”

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Another person familiar with the meeting said Democrats were willing to go along with $54 billion in annual defense spending, as long as it was “matched with an equal increase on [the] nondefense side.”

“That’s been the primary point of debate thus far in the talks, and it was in the meeting,” said the source.

“The president had a constructive meeting with congressional leadership and Defense Secretary [James] Mattis, and the parties agreed on the need for eliminating the defense sequester to deal with the grave national security threats we face,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. 

Such an agreement could be a breakthrough in the government funding debate on Capitol Hill. 

Democrats and Republicans have thus far been unable to agree on spending levels for fiscal 2018. The crux of the issue are budget caps that were imposed in a 2011 bipartisan spending agreement. 

GOP leaders have pushed for an increase in defense spending levels, but Democrats have demanded a reciprocal boost in domestic spending. 

Emerging from the meeting, leaders stopped short of announcing a formal agreement. 

“We had a productive conversation on a wide variety of issues,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSunday shows preview: Trump taps acting attorney general to lead Justice Department Pro-Israel organizations should finally seek payback against Iran deal Dems Pelosi: Acting attorney general 'should not be there' MORE (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiGraham backs bill to protect Mueller Clyburn says some critics are using race to oppose his leadership bid Congress can unite on global affairs MORE (D-Calif.) said in a joint statement. “Nothing specific has been agreed to, but discussions continue.”

Democrats said they want “to strengthen our national defense with parity for our domestic budget.”

They also demanded action on renewing the Children's Health Insurance Program, veterans funding, money to fight opioid addiction and a fix for young immigrants living in the U.S.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanEarmarks look to be making a comeback Former staffers push Congress for action on sexual harassment measure House Republicans need history lesson in battle over next leader MORE (R-Wis.) and McConnell called the meeting “productive” and said they “both focused on the need to reach a long-term funding agreement that provides adequate resources for our military.”

But they reiterated their stance that immigration should be dealt with separately, which has been a major holdup in the budget talks. 

The White House also said it wants to keep immigration talks separate from the spending package and restated its demands for border-wall funding in exchange for action on immigration. 

Sanders said the leaders would resume negotiations Friday on a long-term budget deal.

The House and Senate passed a stopgap spending bill Thursday afternoon to avert a shutdown and buy more time for talks. 

Defense hawks and conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus had been threatening to derail a vote on a two-week funding bill, which is needed to avoid a government shutdown on Friday at midnight, unless they got a commitment from leadership to boost money for the Pentagon before the end of the year.

To lock up the necessary Republican votes for the stopgap measure, House GOP leadership promised to push for a spending package that would fund defense at higher levels through September as part of the next continuing resolution that will be needed on Dec. 22, said Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerThis week: Congress starts lame-duck with leadership fight House Republicans set to elect similar team of leaders despite midterm thumping Conservative groups call for new slate of House GOP leaders MORE (R-N.C.).

Walker said Ryan committed to advocating for the defense-stopgap package with the White House, though the Speaker declined to acknowledge such a deal earlier in the day.

“I’ll take him at his word,” Walker told reporters Thursday. “This was part of our meeting, that he’s working on our behalf."

—Updated at 6:50 p.m.