Congress set to pass foreign development aid overhaul
GOP shrugs off Trump shutdown threat
Congressional Republicans say they are unfazed by President Trump's on-and-off threats to shut down the government ahead of a funding deadline at the end of the month.
"I don't think he'll let that happen," said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee. "Leadership is having good conversations with the president and I've got to believe we'll get this job done."
Appropriators in both the House and Senate aim to pass nine of 12 spending bills in three packages by the end of the month in order to fund the government in the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. They expect to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to keep current funding levels for the remaining three bills, and any other appropriations they fail to pass by the deadline.
Trump renewed his threats on Wednesday to shut down the government, saying he was "willing to do anything" to get funding for his signature policy proposal, a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
"If it happens it happens. If it's about border security, I'm willing to do anything," he told reporters ahead of a meeting with congressional leadership, where he reportedly reaffirmed the congressional spending strategy.
GOP leadership seemed nonplussed by the comments.
"We have a very good understanding with the president that we want to get our appropriations done. We want to get as many bills signed into law this month, and we have a very good agreement and understanding that we're going to keep government funded," Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said at a Thursday press conference.
With just eight legislative days left in the month, Congress has a narrow window to pass the bills. Negotiators were said to be approaching a breakthrough on a veterans funding issue that would allow the first spending package, which includes three spending bills, to move forward to a vote early next week.
The goal is to then move on a bill packaging defense spending and the labor, health and human services and education bill, which contain the lion's share of annual discretionary spending.
While most members seem confident those two packages will be completed by month's end, the question of whether there will be time to complete a third four-bill package remains in the air.
"I think we'll fund the government," said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a conservative who opposes the spending levels agreed to in a bipartisan deal earlier in the year. "I think a few minor bill will pass, but the rest is a CR."
Congressional Republicans were hoping to avoid a pre-election showdown on the most controversial bill, the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill that deals with the border wall.
To do that, they plan to simply pass a CR, keeping current funding levels in place for Homeland Security and the remaining spending bills in place until after the election.
But if Trump were to veto either the individual spending packages or the CR, it would precipitate a shutdown just weeks before the midterm elections.
"I'm hoping we never have a shutdown. We've had 'em. And we're working toward trying to avoid it, and that's where we are today, and we're making progress," said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
"We want to fund the government. It's in the interest of this administration," he added.
His GOP colleagues shared that sentiment.
"You may have three or four Republicans that would be for a shutdown, and one of the reasons why is how much it backfired just a few months ago for the democrats and how quickly they came back to the table," said Rep. Mark Walker (N.C.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, in reference to a brief shutdown earlier in the year over immigration.
Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), an appropriator, said the move would be detrimental to Republicans at the polls.
"Shutting down the government is never good politics and never good policy," Simpson said. "I have never seen it work, I have never seen it give you an advantage."
Despite the stakes, Simpson said he had faith that Trump would ultimately sign the bills.
"I think he will. he knows the strategy we're working on," he said.
Others appropriators say they have little choice but to tune out the shutdown threats and focus on passing legislation.
"I've just got my nose to the grindstone," Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) said when asked about the shutdown threat. "I've got a job to do."