Lawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms

Rank-and-file members of both parties are skeptical they will reach a deal on a spending package in the next four weeks, and expect they’ll have to approve another stopgap measure to prevent a government shutdown.

While top appropriators say they’ve made progress on how to tackle the 12 annual spending bills that keep the government running, the short timeline and continued disagreement over President TrumpDonald TrumpCaitlyn Jenner says election was not 'stolen,' calls Biden 'our president' Overnight Health Care: FDA authorizes Pfizer vaccine for adolescents | Biden administration reverses limits on LGBTQ health protections Overnight Defense: US fires 30 warning shots at Iranian boats | Kabul attack heightens fears of Afghan women's fates | Democratic Party leaders push Biden on rejoining Iran deal MORE’s proposed border wall have left many skeptical.

The House is expected to vote on a continuing resolution (CR) this week that would prevent a government shutdown on Nov. 22 and push the deadline until Dec. 20. But many sound doubtful they will be ready to make a new deal next month.

“Unless something unusual happens around here, I don’t see how we get all our work done and put all the pieces together by [December] 20th,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-AllardLucille Roybal-AllardHouse passes bills providing citizenship path for Dreamers, farmworkers Lawmakers call for action on first anniversary of Breonna Taylor's death House approves cyber funds in relief package as officials press for more MORE (D-Calif.), who heads of the Homeland Security appropriations subcommittee that deals with wall funding.

Trump’s wall has been the primary issue preventing Congress from reaching a funding deal for the 2020 fiscal year, which began in October.


It led to a 35-day partial government shutdown that began at the end of last year, and lawmakers are wary that it could lead to one again despite assurances from Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinDemocrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer Yellen provides signature for paper currency Biden's name will not appear on stimulus checks, White House says MORE this week that there would be no shutdown.

Congressional Democrats and Republicans agreed to overall spending levels in a summer budget deal. That deal created a $1.3 trillion cap on government spending for the next year, which is $322 billion higher than the previous year.

But the wall has prevented lawmakers from agreeing on how to split the money between the 12 spending bills.

Trump’s February decision to reprogram defense and military construction funds through a state of emergency only complicated negotiations, spreading the wall issue to several of the 12 annual bills.  

Without an agreement on the wall, which would require more money for Homeland Security at the expense of bills such as Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, appropriators said they couldn’t finalize numbers or strike deals on the less controversial bills.

That dynamic changed at a Thursday meeting with House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden reverses Trump limits on transgender protections The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Infrastructure, Cheney ouster on deck as Congress returns This week: Congressional leaders to meet with Biden amid GOP reckoning MORE (D-Calif.) and Mnuchin, where top appropriators agreed to put off specifics about the wall and other controversies and work toward a deal on spending allocations by Nov. 20.  

“There was a general agreement from all sides that it was important to get our work done, and we intend to move forward and get our work done,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue Lowey Progressives fight for leverage amid ever-slimming majority Biden needs to tear down bureaucratic walls and refocus Middle East programs Committee chairs continue their lawmaking decline MORE (D-N.Y.).

“Once those allocations are done, then the individual committees work with the challenges and areas where there are differences,” she added.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyRepublicans embrace Trump in effort to reclaim Senate Top Senate Democrat announces return of earmarks Senate GOP keeps symbolic earmark ban MORE (R-Ala.) sounded an optimistic note.

“It’s the best meeting we’ve had in months,” he said, though he added that “we’ve got some more steps to go,” including getting feedback from the White House.

Mnuchin said the administration intended to keep the government open.
“We have no intention of having a shutdown. I think everybody intends to keep the government open,” he said following the meeting.
But even with a potential deal on funding allocations, appropriators worry that four weeks will not be enough time to iron out differences, and that the wall issue could drag things further.
“It seems ambitious,” said Rep. Tom GravesJohn (Tom) Thomas GravesGreene's future on House committees in limbo after GOP meeting McConnell says Taylor Greene's embrace of conspiracy theories a 'cancer' GOP has growing Marjorie Taylor Greene problem MORE (R-Ga.), an appropriator, of the December deadline.
Controversy over the administration’s so-called “gag rule” on abortion, which blocked Planned Parenthood from receiving Title X funds, is also a major obstacle.
“Everybody’s going to work really hard to try and get it done by the 20th, but they’re also talking about — it may go into February, another CR into February,” said Roybal-Allard.
The ongoing impeachment process could also make it difficult to work out deals and find floor time to pass new spending bills. Lawmakers fret that every new deadline raises the risk of a shutdown.
But members of congressional leadership made the case that kicking the can down the road further would only cause Congress to delay further.
“I try to set earlier deadlines rather than later deadlines, because I think we all get our work done,” said House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerCapitol Police watchdog back in spotlight amid security concerns On The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to 498K, hitting new post-lockdown low | House to advance appropriations bills in June, July House to consider anti-Asian hate crimes bill, protections for pregnant workers this month MORE (D-Md.).
Running the government on continuing resolutions carries its own costs.
The stopgap freezes spending at existing levels, leaving programs essentially in limbo, blocking government agencies from embarking on new projects or reprioritizing their spending. It also prevents lawmakers from winning new spending for favored projects.
“We prefer to not have a continuing resolution. So we have to make some decisions as we go forward,” Pelosi noted on Thursday.
But fiscal conservatives such as White House acting Chief of Staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyHeadhunters having hard time finding jobs for former Trump officials: report Trump holdovers are denying Social Security benefits to the hardest working Americans Mulvaney calls Trump's comments on Capitol riot 'manifestly false' MORE like that CRs block increases in spending. That’s one reason he floated a yearlong CR earlier in the year, a threat that has hung over the spending talks.
Fiscal conservatives have slammed the White House for overseeing a massive spike in the debt, which surpassed $23 trillion this month for the first time ever as the deficit nears $1 trillion.
Defense hawks and proponents of the wall balked at the idea, pointing out that it would prevent any new funds for physical barriers and prevent a spike in defense spending.
Hoyer seemed to blame Mulvaney for holding up progress, saying that disagreement from the White House has stopped Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellManchin, Biden huddle amid talk of breaking up T package Romney: Removing Cheney from House leadership will cost GOP election votes The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden reverses Trump limits on transgender protections MORE (R-Ky.) from agreeing to move things forward.
“In my opinion, McConnell was waiting on an ‘okay’ from the White House to proceed. Mulvaney did not want to proceed,” Hoyer said in an MSNBC interview on Thursday morning.
“The fact that he’s sidelined now, perhaps will give us some room for progress,” he added.
Jordain Carney contributed.