Trump on collision course with McConnell on spending

President TrumpDonald TrumpHead of firms that pushed 'Italygate' theory falsely claimed VA mansion was her home: report Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting VA moving to cover gender affirmation surgery through department health care MORE is on a collision course with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP increasingly balks at calling Jan. 6 an insurrection Black lawmakers warn against complacency after Juneteenth victory Graham quips key to working with Trump: We both 'like him' MORE (R-Ky.) over whether to work with Democrats on a spending bill. 

Trump has given the GOP leader some time to work with Democrats but doesn’t want the talks to drag on all year and lead to an agreement that would increase spending — and the budget deficit.

McConnell, a longtime member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has said he wants to try to pass regular spending bills before defaulting to a continuing resolution (CR). 

To Trump, the advantages of a yearlong stopgap are obvious. 


Any negotiation with Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGOP increasingly balks at calling Jan. 6 an insurrection Overnight Energy: Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West | White House leads opposition to raising gas tax | Biden taps ex-New Mexico lawmaker for USDA post Trump against boycotting Beijing Olympics in 2022 MORE (D-Calif.) and House Democrats is likely to increase spending, and that’s the last thing Trump wants ahead of his reelection effort in 2020. 

Trump doesn't want to risk being put in a position of having to sign a bill that further blows up the deficit, say sources familiar with the White House’s position.

But McConnell, an ex-appropriator and dealmaker who faces a reelection race himself next year, wants to avoid a continuing resolution. 

He wants to strike a deal to raise defense and non-defense spending, along the lines of what congressional leaders agreed to in the late winter of 2018.

And one reason is that under the 2011 Budget Control Act, a continuing resolution would trigger automatic spending reductions known as sequestration that would lead to huge cuts at the Pentagon and to domestic spending. 

Congress could avoid the sequester cuts by adding language waiving the 2011 Budget Control Act caps, as it has done before.

But McConnell also wants to avoid a yearlong stopgap measure that would freeze 2019 funding levels because this would prevent appropriators from shifting funds around to various priorities as they see fit. 

The GOP leader previewed his strategy before the April recess, saying the only way to negotiate “a rational spending cap bill is in the political center.”

“We have to do it because the country will suffer either through a CR or, even worse, a sequester if we don’t do it,” he said.

McConnell has already talked to Pelosi and Trump about starting a discussion on a deal. 

“McConnell says, ‘Let me start negotiations, I can get a good deal,’ and the president says, ‘Let’s see what happens,’ but it turns out they’re nowhere close to deal. It’s the end of April and they’re nowhere close to a deal,” said a Republican source familiar with the discussion between McConnell and Trump on spending talks. 

White House officials are leery of where the talks may lead, noting that the last bipartisan deal reached in early 2018 boosted spending by $300 billion over two years. 

Trump later said he was “unhappy” with the resulting $1.3 trillion legislation and that he would “never sign another bill like this again.” 

Russ Vought, the acting White House budget director, told Senate and House negotiators at a meeting last week that Trump would be willing to sign a long-term CR that would freeze funding at fiscal 2019 levels if there isn’t progress from congressional leaders soon. 

A congressional source familiar with the meeting said Vought indicated that the White House is leaning in favor of a yearlong stopgap spending measure instead of a broader bipartisan spending deal. 

“He was the administration representative at that meeting last week and that’s what he said,” said the source, describing the meeting as “totally ineffective.” 

A second congressional source familiar with the White House budget office’s position said Vought has indicated he expects Congress to pass a CR as well as supplemental defense legislation to help meet Trump’s goal of strengthening the military.  

Trump has formally proposed allowing the 2011 Budget Control Act caps to kick in for 2020. To provide more money to the Pentagon, he has proposed adding $96 billion through the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, which is not subject to statutory spending limits 

Conservative policy experts are urging Trump not to trust McConnell and Pelosi to put together a spending deal that wouldn’t blow up the deficit. 

“Quite frankly I don’t know what Trump would trust McConnell to negotiate. Trump said from the outset he doesn’t want a [spending] caps deal and McConnell’s first instinct is to say, ‘OK, we’re getting a caps deal,’” said Rachel Bovard, the senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute.

McConnell cannot afford a tempest with Trump in 2019 given his reelection race in 2020. 

Trump’s support for McConnell would be key to defeating any potential primary challenger to the GOP leader. 

Before the recess, McConnell acknowledged the danger of working on a bipartisan deal. 

He said such talks “typically ruffles feathers among some on your own side” but added “this is sort of the basic work of government that has to be done.” 

Democrats say any increases to defense spending should be matched by equal increases for non-defense programs, a position that will be tough for Trump to accept. 

A senior administration official on Friday expressed impatience with the lack of progress on spending talks with McConnell and Pelosi, and said Democrats have yet to even formulate their position. 

The official warned that Democratic demands for additional spending on nondefense programs could threaten economic growth.

“Democrats had big talk in February about striking a quick caps deal but then couldn’t even pass their own bill,” the official said, referring to the failure of House Democrats to pass a budget resolution.

“Time is ticking and it’s clear is Democrats are in disarray and Congress isn’t anywhere close to reaching a spending deal that tackles deficit spending. Even Blue Dog Democrats are showing concern their party is pushing for more deficit spending as we face over $22 trillion in debt which threatens our long-term economic growth,” the official added. 

The lack of progress in the congressional spending talks led the White House last week to also push Congress to move more quickly on raising the government’s debt ceiling. White House officials want to isolate that issue in order to lower the temperature of the negotiations on spending levels for 2020 and 2021. 

Niv Elis contributed.