McConnell ups pressure on White House to get a budget deal

McConnell ups pressure on White House to get a budget deal
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPence: Next coronavirus relief bill would need legal shield for businesses GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill State Department scrutiny threatens Pompeo's political ambitions MORE (R-Ky.) invited Senate Republican colleagues to a meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinFive questions about the next COVID-19 relief package Senate Republicans call on DOJ to investigate Planned Parenthood loans The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Surgeon General stresses need to invest much more in public health infrastructure, during and after COVID-19; Fauci hopeful vaccine could be deployed in December MORE and White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyThe Memo: Trump agenda rolls on amid pandemic Trump taps Brooke Rollins as acting domestic policy chief Navarro fuels tariff speculation: 'Bill has come due' for China MORE Wednesday in a renewed attempt to sell the White House on a two-year spending deal.

McConnell brought in Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyTop Republican says Trump greenlit budget fix for VA health care GOP senators not tested for coronavirus before lunch with Trump McConnell, GOP senators support exempting VA health funds from budget caps MORE (R-Ala.) and several appropriations cardinals, the chairmen of powerful subcommittees, to underscore his argument that a two-year deal on spending caps is essential to avoiding big cuts to defense spending at year’s end.  

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Sens. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day GOP senators: More relief needed now MORE (R-Mo.), chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services subcommittee, Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiRepublicans push for help for renewable energy, fossil fuel industries The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Mnuchin: More COVID-19 congressional action ahead Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day MORE (R-Alaska), chairwoman of the Interior subcommittee, Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate confirms Ratcliffe to be Trump's spy chief Abrams announces endorsements in 7 Senate races Schumer dubs GOP 'conspiracy caucus' amid Obama-era probes MORE (R-S.C.), chairman of the State and Foreign Operations subcommittee, Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), chairwoman of the Legislative Branch subcommittee, John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanCongress headed toward unemployment showdown We can't afford to let local news die Bipartisan group of senators asks Treasury, SBA to loosen coronavirus loan restrictions MORE (R-Ark.), chairman of the Military Construction subcommittee, and John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenBipartisan senators seek funding for pork producers forced to euthanize livestock House Republicans threaten pushback on Saudi Arabia amid oil market slump Overnight Energy: Trump rollback of Obama mileage standards faces court challenges | Court strikes down EPA suspension of Obama greenhouse gas rule | Trump floats cutting domestic oil production MORE (R-N.D.), chairman of the Agriculture subcommittee, also attended the meeting.

A Senate Republican lawmaker with knowledge of the agenda said the purpose of the meeting was to sell the White House on accepting a two-year spending caps deal with Democrats.

The source said that Shelby and Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyThe House impeachment inquiry loses another round — and yes, that's still going on Hillicon Valley: Trump threatens Michigan, Nevada over mail-in voting | Officials call for broadband expansion during pandemic | Democrats call for investigation into Uber-Grubhub deal Democratic senators call on regulators to investigate potential Uber-Grubhub deal MORE (Vt.), the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, have sketched out a possible rough deal.

Shelby told reporters after the meeting that Mnuchin and Mulvaney will bring a proposal back to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump retweets personal attacks on Clinton, Pelosi, Abrams Biden swipes at Trump: 'Presidency is about a lot more than tweeting from your golf cart' GOP sues California over Newsom's vote-by-mail order MORE to review. He also said Senate Republicans will pass along a new Republican offer to House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump retweets personal attacks on Clinton, Pelosi, Abrams Biden swipes at Trump: 'Presidency is about a lot more than tweeting from your golf cart' Federal aid to state and local governments should rely on real numbers MORE (D-Calif.).

“We will be meeting again,” Shelby said. “We discussed things in pretty good detail.”

“Did we crystalize it? No. We didn’t think we’d crystalize it today, but we’re making some progress. But we have some unanswered questions that need to be answered,” he added.

“We’re going to have to be looking at spending caps or sequestration. Sequestration would be devastating to national security in a troubled world we live in,” Shelby said, summarizing the argument that GOP senators are making to the White House.

If Trump and Senate and House leaders fail to reach a deal to raise the spending caps, the automatic cuts known as sequestration set up by the 2011 Budget Control Act will take effect in January.

Asked whether Mnuchin and Mulvaney appeared moved by the prospect of steep cuts to defense programs, Shelby said, “I think so.”

Mnuchin told reporters after the meeting that the White House will agree to link a spending caps deal with legislation to raise the federal debt limit past the 2020 election, a victory for Senate leaders who want to take care of the nation’s most pressing fiscal business with one deal.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump slams Sessions: 'You had no courage & ruined many lives' Senate Democrats call on Trump administration to let Planned Parenthood centers keep PPP loans States, companies set up their own COVID-19 legal shields MORE (N.Y.) said White House officials agreed to link the spending deal to raising the debt limit at a meeting last month, but Mnuchin confirmed it Wednesday.

“Our preference is if we reach a caps deal, the debt ceiling has to be included,” he said.

Mnuchin also said he will brief Trump on the results of the meeting.

“We wouldn’t reach any agreement without the president being fully on board. He’s fully briefed on all our conversations,” he said.

If McConnell and Shelby can’t clinch a deal on new spending caps, the Senate will have to come up with its own top-line numbers to move forward with spending bills, a strategy the Democratic-controlled House has already adopted.

Shelby said he’d prefer to reach a deal with the White House instead of move spending bills through the Senate with the prospect that Trump may veto them later this year.

“We’ve been discussing whether to move forward, deem something, assume something — but we’d rather do it with certainty,” he said.

One Republican senator expressed optimism that McConnell will be able to convince Mulvaney, a former member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, to accept a two-year spending deal, even though it increases the deficit.

“We actually feel pretty good about it,” said the lawmaker. “There are some folks in the White House that in a vacuum wouldn’t mind if the wheels fell off [a budget deal.] We’d spend less money.”

But the lawmaker said that would send a bad signal to allies around the world as it would likely result in a severe defense spending cut.