Republicans push for border wall funds in spending bills
Republicans are desperate to avoid the partial government shutdown President Trump is cheerleading for but also want to deliver a final win to the White House to fund the border wall and flex their congressional majorities one last time before Democrats gain leverage next year.
House Republicans said this weekend’s violent assault on the border involving members of the migrant caravan is more reason for Congress to pony up the $5 billion the president wants for building the wall.
“And I’d like to think that Democrats would also want to join us in securing the border, especially after the election,” said Speaker Paul D. Ryan.
The House has already passed a Homeland Security spending bill with $5 billion in wall building money included.
But Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, who has some leverage thanks to the Senate filibuster, says he’s not ready to budge from the $1.6 billion Senate negotiators, both Republican and Democrat, agreed to in their bill earlier this year.
“The Republicans are in control of the presidency, the House and the Senate a shutdown is on their back,” he said Tuesday. “Stick to the $1.6 billion.”
But even that would be too much for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which fired off a letter Wednesday saying it wants no more money dedicated to the border wall.
Congress is facing a Dec. 7 deadline for the next round of spending bills to fund the government for the rest of fiscal year 2019.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly said he’s itching for a shutdown, and this week said he’ll do that if he’s not satisfied with border wall money.
“We need border security in this country, and if that means a shutdown I would totally be willing to shut it down,” the president told Politico. “And I think it’s a really bad issue for the Democrats.”
Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican, agreed with the president on the politics of the issue, saying Democrats are losing the public-relations battle and that the recent issues involving the migrant caravan traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border likely stiffened the resolve of Republicans.
But Mr. Cole, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, said he’s not a fan of the push for a shutdown, and that Congress could pass stopgap funding to keep the government running even without wall money.
“I just don’t think government shutdowns tend to work,” he said.
Congress has passed and the president has signed five of the 12 annual spending bills for 2019, which will fund 70 percent to 75 percent of the approximately $1.2 trillion federal discretionary budget for 2019. Already funded are the Defense, Health, Labor and Veterans Affairs departments.
That means they would not shut down, even if Congress misses the Dec. 7 deadline.
But departments covered by the remaining seven bills, including Commerce, Justice, Agriculture and Homeland Security, would see their funding lapse. Government employees deemed essential, like Border Patrol agents, would still report to work, though they could face a delay in their pay. Others would be furloughed.
Some Republicans say that with control of the House about to flip to Democrats, this is the GOP’s last chance to secure any wall money. Rep. Bradley Byrne of Alabama is pushing colleagues to use a fast-track budget tool to approve a full $25 billion for border wall construction.
“Now is the time, because we will not be able to use this type of legislation after Jan. 1,” Mr. Byrne said.
But using the budget process would require the Senate to pass a budget, and would absorb almost all of the floor time Congress is scheduled to be in the rest of this year, crowding out other priorities like passing a farm bill and approving judicial nominations in the Senate.
Rep. Louie Gohmert said Republicans shouldn’t be derailed.
“Some people just want to take the snap, fall on the ball and call it a game, and we have until January,” the Texas Republican said. “We have the power. We have the ability. But some at the top don’t have the will. We just need to make the will and make it happen.”
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, Alabama Republican, said Wednesday that if no deal on 2019 bills can be struck in time, Congress could resort to stopgap funding at current levels known in Capitol-speak as a “continuing resolution” through September for all remaining departments.
“I think a lot of people would like to see that, but the Democrats would lose a lot on that too,” he said.