Leaders appear to make little progress toward funding deal

Leaders appear to make little progress toward funding deal
© Greg Nash

Congressional leaders and White House officials appear nowhere closer to a bipartisan deal to fund the government, raising the chances that lawmakers may need to pass another stopgap spending bill to avoid a shutdown in just over two weeks.

The “Big Four” congressional leaders met in the Capitol Wednesday afternoon with Office of Management and Budget Director Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyTrump furious after officials allowed Americans with coronavirus to fly home with other passengers: report Mulvaney confirms he'd have to take a pay cut to be permanent White House chief of staff The Hill's Morning Report — Sanders, Dems zero in on Super Tuesday MORE and White House legislative affairs director Marc Short to discuss the outlines of a package to fund the government through September.

Time is running short, as lawmakers are seeking to prevent automatic across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, from taking effect later this month.

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But shortly after the meeting, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Russian interference reports rock Capitol Hill Top GOP super PAC spent money on NC Democrat MORE (R-Ky.) seemed to dismiss one of Democrats’ top priorities in the budget deal: parity between defense and nondefense spending increases. 

“There is no reason why funding for our national security and our service members should be limited by an arbitrary political formula that bears no relationship to actual need,” McConnell tweeted.

Already there is chatter that another short-term continuing resolution (CR) may be needed to buy time for more negotiations. Congress passed a stopgap spending bill before the holidays that will keep the government’s lights on until Jan. 19.

“Another short term CR is not a complete surprise to me,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsLawmakers grill Census Bureau officials after report on cybersecurity issues Conservative lawmakers warn Pelosi about 'rate-setting' surprise billing fix House GOP leader says reassignment of Vindman was appropriate MORE (R-N.C.) told The Hill on Wednesday. “Continuing to do a short-term extension that funds the military [spending] anomalies would not be a non-starter.”

In addition to a boost for nondefense programs, Democrats also outlined their desire Wednesday for an agreement on protections for young immigrants, disaster aid and a spate of health-care issues, according to a Democratic leadership aide.

“We had a positive and productive meeting and all parties have agreed to continue discussing a path forward to quickly resolve all of the issues ahead of us,” House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiRussian interference reports rock Capitol Hill Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter split on Bloomberg video | Sanders briefed on Russian efforts to help campaign | Barr to meet with Republicans ahead of surveillance fight Pelosi blasts Trump's 'dangerous' pick for intelligence chief MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerRussian interference reports rock Capitol Hill Clinton calls Trump 'Putin's puppet' amid reports of Russian interference in 2020 election New York man accused of making death threats against Schumer, Schiff MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement.

And Republicans said they want a two-year budget agreement that "funds our troops and provides for our national security."

"We’ve been clear about these budget priorities from the beginning and hope that further discussions will lead to an agreement soon," McConnell, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan says he disagrees with Romney's impeachment vote Trump doubles down on Neil Cavuto attacks: 'Will he get the same treatment as' Shep Smith? Trump lashes out at Fox News coverage: 'I won every one of my debates' MORE (R-Wis.) and the White House said in a joint statement.

A deal on top-line spending numbers is needed so that appropriators can begin crafting a massive, trillion-dollar omnibus bill to fund the government through September.  

GOP and Democratic leaders, as well as the White House, have been negotiating behind closed doors for weeks, trying to lock down a two-year budget agreement that would cover the rest of the 2018 fiscal year as well as fiscal 2019. But so far, a deal has remained elusive.

Emerging from the meeting Wednesday in Ryan’s office, a reticent Pelosi disclosed almost nothing about the discussion. The Democratic leader said she’s hopeful the sides are closer to a deal that would prevent the need for yet another short-term spending patch.

“It’s all in the works,” she said.

Pelosi also said she pressed the Republicans to include a fix in the omnibus package for immigrants who have benefited from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Gov. Ron DeSantis more popular in Florida than Trump Sotomayor accuses Supreme Court of bias in favor of Trump administration MORE is ending.

But that idea is opposed by the Republican leaders, who say they want to address the immigration issue closer to the March 5 sunset date for DACA that Trump set in September.

A Democratic leadership aide said after the meeting that the policymakers agreed to continue talks on a package combining the core spending bill with a DACA fix, health-care funding and a new round of disaster aid.

Yet a joint statement from the Republicans pushed back against the notion that GOP leaders are ready to accept an immigration component.

“It … remains important that members of Congress do not hold funding for our troops hostage for immigration policy,” the GOP statement warned. 

Pelosi and Schumer have both taken some heat from liberals on and off of Capitol Hill for not pressing harder to include their priorities — most notably a DACA fix — on the three CRs Congress has passed since September.

In a letter to House Democrats Tuesday, Pelosi sought to assure the caucus that she and Schumer would be taking a harder line on the omnibus, singling out protections for Dreamers as well as new funding for veterans, health research, threatened pensions, disaster relief and the popular, state-based Children's Health Insurance Program.