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White House officials won’t say if Trump will sign spending bills

September 12, 2018

President Trump is ready to sign the first of the annual spending bills poised to emerge from Congress this week, but officials won’t say whether he’d sign the rest of the bills needed to keep the government up and running into the new fiscal year preserving his threat of a quasi-government shutdown.

Mr. Trump has been itching for a shutdown, though he’s said in recent weeks he’ll wait until after the election to avoid hurting the Republican Party’s electoral chances.

But the more spending bills he signs now, the less government there is to shut down, meaning less leverage for Mr. Trump, who wants to use the threat of a shutdown to win more money for his border wall.

An administration official working on the budget said Mr. Trump will approve the three bills Congress expects to pass this week with $147 billion for Veterans Affairs, military base construction, energy and water projects, and Capitol Hill operations.

But the official would offer no commitments on the six other bills Congress wants to finish this month, ahead of the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year and a shutdown deadline.

The administration’s shutdown rhetoric injects confusion into what has been an unusually orderly appropriations process in Congress, where lawmakers are on track to have most of the government funded on time for the first time in decades.

Republicans and Democrats are cooperating on the bills, and GOP leaders have shrugged off Mr. Trump’s threats.

“We’re in the process this month of putting 9 out of the 12 of the appropriation bills that fund the government on the president’s desk that’s 90 percent of the discretionary budget of the United States on the president’s desk before the end of September,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters in Louisville on Tuesday. “Why is that important? It hasn’t happened since 1997.” The calculation is 75 percent not 90 percent as Mr. McConnell stated.

The final text of the first package of three bills was announced Monday.

A second package, which funds the Departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, is also a top priority, as the price tag is expected to make up about two-thirds of total discretionary spending for next year.

A final third package includes funding for interior/environment, financial services, agriculture, and transportation programs.

Though lawmakers have been publicly bullish about passing the nine individual bills by the end of the month, they might not have enough time to get all or part of the third package to Mr. Trump’s desk by Oct. 1. The House is currently scheduled to be out next week for Yom Kippur.

Lagging behind are the three final bills covering Homeland Security, Commerce, Justice and State departments, as well as science programs. Leaders say they’ll need to pass stopgap funding for those, pushing divisive debates past the 2018 midterm campaign season.

The more money shifted into the stopgap measure, the more leverage Mr. Trump would have to orchestrate a shutdown.

The crux of the shutdown showdown is his demand for a $5 billion infusion in cash for his border wall plans.

Senators have proposed spending just $1.6 billion next year the same as this year while House Republicans’ bill included the full $5 billion presidential request.

The White House refused to say how Mr. Trump would extend the spending fight beyond the Sept. 30 deadline.

If he limits it to the three bills that lawmakers already plan to delay, Mr. Trump would at least have the threat of shuttering vital homeland security, commerce, justice, science and state programs.

However, the essential personnel at those agency would remain on the job during a shutdown, which undermines the threat.

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