GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks

Senate Republicans, eager to avert a government shutdown or automatic spending cuts, want acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke Acosta out as Trump Labor secretary Pelosi reportedly told Trump deputy: 'What was your name, dear?' MORE pushed to the sidelines in budget negotiations with Democrats.

GOP lawmakers would prefer Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinBen Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist The Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment White House, Congress inch toward debt, budget deal MORE take the lead in representing the White House, as they see him being more amenable to a two-year spending deal that would also raise the debt limit.

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Mulvaney, on the other hand, is viewed as resistant to striking a two-year deal, which would take the prospect of another government shutdown off the table until after the 2020 election.

And Republicans point to Mulvaney’s time in the House as the reason for their concern.

As a founding member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, Mulvaney was an outspoken critic of big budget deals that swell the federal deficit. That’s also one of the main reasons President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist MORE appointed him to serve as White House budget director before he transitioned last year to serve as acting chief of staff.

GOP lawmakers say they were pleased that Mnuchin took the lead in a recent meeting Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Will Trump's racist tweets backfire? Al Green: 'We have the opportunity to punish' Trump with impeachment vote MORE (D-Calif.) hosted in her office with Congress’s other top leaders.

“He’s been very helpful. My experience with Secretary Mnuchin has been very positive, and I think it’s a job he’d be good at,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report White House, Congress inch toward debt, budget deal White House abruptly cancels Trump meeting with GOP leaders MORE (R-Texas), an adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment White House, Congress inch toward debt, budget deal Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout MORE (R-Ky.), said of Mnuchin taking the lead for the White House in budget talks.

Cornyn said he understood from speaking to Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyLawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens Trump administration denies temporary immigrant status to Venezuelans in US Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse MORE (Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee who is involved in the talks, that Mnuchin will be taking a more central role and praised it as a positive development.

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Another Republican lawmaker close to the talks said Mnuchin is “now playing the lead role” and expressed satisfaction with that development.

“He brings the stature of the Cabinet,” the GOP senator said.

Republicans think Mnuchin will be more amenable to striking a deal with Democrats because he is eager to raise the debt limit in a timely and orderly way. A budget agreement would be a convenient vehicle to raise the debt limit, as it would likely pass both the Senate and House by wide margins.

Reaching a spending deal soon would also send a reassuring signal to financial markets.

“He’s been in the private sector. He understands it’s important to talk about the debt limit because he understands sending a message to bond markets around the world,” the GOP senator added.

Democrats publicly, and Republicans privately, have identified Mulvaney as an obstacle to getting a deal.

Mulvaney and Mnuchin have been on the same page in meetings with congressional leaders, but lawmakers suspect Mulvaney is more of an obstacle than Mnuchin, largely because of his past affiliation with the House Freedom Caucus.

“I think Mulvaney does not want a deal, and I think that’s the biggest problem. Mr. Mulvaney believes his negotiating authority or positioning will be better if there’s no deal,” said House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment White House, Congress inch toward debt, budget deal House to test Trump's veto pen on Saudi arms sales MORE (D-Md.), who said he’s been briefed by Pelosi on the negotiations.

“One of the problems, of course, is the Republicans can’t get agreement among themselves, between the Republican senators and the White House, and that’s unfortunate,” added Hoyer.

Senate Republicans fear they will lose leverage the longer the talks remain stalled.

“At some point, somebody has to put the hammer down on Mulvaney. You’re not going to get anything you want unless Nancy gets everything she wants on the domestic side, moneywise, at least. I don’t know why they can’t figure that out,” a GOP lawmaker said of the difficulty the White House has had dealing with Pelosi.

“They think the president’s hand gets stronger over time. Most of us think it gets weaker over time,” the Republican lawmaker said, warning that letting the impasse drag out later in the year risks the chance of a government shutdown in December.

“Why would the president want to start the election year like that?” the senator asked, predicting that Republicans would get most of the blame for another government shutdown.

A senior administration official said, “It does no good for Republicans to negotiate with ourselves.”

The senior administration official said Democrats are to blame for the lack of progress and downplayed the likelihood of another shutdown or the scarier prospect of the federal government not being able to pay its obligations by failing to raise the debt ceiling.

“Democrats ended negotiations this week because they continue to push their dead-on-arrival $2 trillion increase with unserious policy riders, while the administration has made serious compromise offers,” the official said. “A shutdown or debt default is not going to happen.”

McConnell hosted a meeting with Mulvaney, Mnuchin and senior members of the Senate Appropriations Committee last week in an effort to convince the White House that a two-year spending deal is the best option.

Mulvaney has frustrated GOP and Democratic lawmakers alike by pushing for a one-year deal instead of the two-year deal that McConnell and most Senate Republicans favor.

“I think Mulvaney wants a one-year deal,” Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment White House, Congress inch toward debt, budget deal GOP struggles to find backup plan for avoiding debt default MORE (R-Ala.) said before the meeting.

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke Republicans make U-turn on health care Trump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid MORE (R-Tenn.) said the talks have dragged on for long enough.

“I just think it’s time for the president and the Republican leaders to sit down and work this out. We need to get on with it,” he said.

Republicans were frustrated this week when Mnuchin and Mulvaney proposed a fallback option of passing a one-year continuing resolution (CR) that would essentially freeze spending at fiscal 2019 levels.

“I hate that idea,” said Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump digs in ahead of House vote to condemn tweet Why Trump's bigoted tropes won't work in 2020 The Memo: Toxic 2020 is unavoidable conclusion from Trump tweets MORE (R-S.C.), who has otherwise defended Mulvaney as doing a good job, when asked about the idea of a yearlong CR.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTrump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump digs in ahead of House vote to condemn tweet MORE (R-Maine) said, “A one-year CR is a very bad idea.”

“CRs lock in spending from the previous year and do not take into account priorities or changed circumstances,” she said.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Defense: Highlights from Defense pick's confirmation hearing | Esper spars with Warren over ethics | Sidesteps questions on Mattis vs. Trump | Trump says he won't sell F-35s to Turkey Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse PBS premieres first nationally distributed kids' show with Native American lead MORE (R-Alaska) said, “You know how I feel about CRs. I’m not a fan.”

Another Republican member of the Senate Appropriations Committee called a one-year stopgap “a terrible idea.”

While Mnuchin was the one who proposed a one-year stopgap measure as a plan B, lawmakers saw Mulvaney, who still serves as the White House budget director in addition to his role as acting chief of staff, as the main impetus behind it.

Russell Vought, Mulvaney’s former deputy who now serves as acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, suggested in late April during a meeting with senior congressional staff that Congress should consider a long-term CR if it couldn’t reach a deal on raising the spending caps.