Finance

Trump faces long odds in avoiding big spending bill

The House has left for recess, July is turning to August and Congress is again facing the prospect of having to prevent a shutdown by passing a massive end-of-year spending bill.

President Trump vowed after signing a $1.3 trillion omnibus earlier this year that he'd "never sign another bill like this again."

But the prospect that he'll have to at least sign a big package of spending bills is growing.

While the Senate is staying in Washington for much of the August recess, in part to work on appropriation measures, some think a big year-end spending package will be tough to avoid.

"The longer this takes, the more likely it is that it'll be an omni, which everybody hates," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), an appropriator who has served 16 years in the House and seen his share of massive spending bills.

"Everybody hates it. Appropriators don't like it, the White House doesn't like it, Republican leadership in the House doesn't like it. But that's what happens if you keep delaying it," he said.

Congress must pass measures to keep the government funded by Sept. 30 to prevent a shutdown.

Republicans would like to meet that commitment by passing 12 appropriations bills through each chamber, but Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) acknowledged the unlikelihood of doing so this week.

He said the House would need a continuing resolution (CR), a stopgap measure that continues existing funding. This would bridge the government until Congress finishes approving whichever bills it fails to pass by the deadline, or an omnibus.

The GOP wants to provide a face-saving measure for Trump given his vow to never again sign an omnibus. If they send him bills in smaller packages, the thinking goes, he can avoid having to put his name on one bill that costs upward of $1.3 trillion.

But getting the bills across the finish line won't be simple.

The House and Senate have approved a set of funding bills and were supposed to have a conference to work out differences in the measures on July 12. But the conference was stalled until September over disagreements on how to fund a veterans program. 

Bigger differences - notably over Trump's demand that the Congress fund his wall on the southern border - are on the way.

The Senate has passed legislation funding the Homeland Security Department that includes $1.6 billion for the wall. The rival bill in the House, however, includes $5 billion in wall funding.

Trump backs the House bill, and is putting pressure on Republicans to increase funding.

He reportedly berated Sens. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) after seeing their bill included just $1.6 billion for the wall. Shelby is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, while Capito is the top Republican on the Homeland Security subcommittee.

There have been some signs that Trump is softening his position.

In May, he tweeted that he would not accept a stopgap funding measure that didn't include strong border protection. But on Thursday, Ryan said Trump expressed a willingness to be patient on the issue.

Some veteran lawmakers are optimistic that they can avoid sending Trump a final big-ticket package.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the chairman of the Appropriations labor, health and human services subcommittee, says the House will likely have to follow the Senate in lumping its spending bill for those agencies with legislation funding the Pentagon.

If Congress can get those bills past the finish line, he predicted Congress would likely complete all of the spending measures aside from the Homeland Security bill by the end of September.

"The big deal is to get the biggest, to get the defense bill done, and that's the No. 1 top priority, and to do that you have to get Labor-H, and that's the most important domestic bill," he said.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the top Democratic appropriator in the House, expects the House to at least pass initial versions of all the bills by the end of the fiscal year. But she warned that nothing is likely to be easy.

"I'm never going to predict what challenges could arise by September," she said. 

Outbrain
View desktop version