House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said negotiators on a sweeping package that would lift tight discretionary spending caps and raise the debt ceiling are aiming to have a bill on the House floor next Thursday.
Accordingly, the California Democrat said, talks would need to wrap up by this Friday night in order to post legislative text sometime over the weekend, required under the House’s rule that 72 hours’ notice is necessary for lawmakers to read bills before voting on them. “When we have an agreement we’ll write it up, and we have to do all of that by Friday evening,” Pelosi told reporters.
Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, of New York, spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin by phone for 30 minutes earlier Wednesday, a Pelosi aide said.
Time is short because the House is set to adjourn for the August break on July 26. Treasury has warned lawmakers that action on the debt ceiling is needed before they leave, since the department could run out of borrowing room in early September, possibly before Congress reconvenes after Labor Day on Sept. 9.
Pelosi has said she won’t agree to a debt limit increase without also addressing the austere appropriations caps for fiscal 2020 and 2021 under current law. Nondefense funding caps would drop by 9 percent from current-year enacted levels if no deal is reached. Democratic leaders view allowing a debt limit increase through without a spending cap deal attached as costing them leverage later.
Getting a bill on the House floor next Thursday would enable the Senate to process the measure before that chamber’s summer recess begins August 2. “We would like to have something on the floor next Thursday so that we can send it in a timely fashion to the Senate so that they can go through their, shall we say, particularly senatorial process to get it done in time before they leave,” Pelosi said.
A key sticking point has been Pelosi’s demand for extra money — $9 billion in fiscal 2020 and $13 billion in fiscal 2021 — outside of regular spending caps to finance programs for veterans seeking private medical care outside traditional Department of Veterans Affairs facilities. The program has proven so popular that it is habitually short of cash, and last year President Donald Trump signed legislation that requires additional funds to compete with other discretionary VA resources.
“It’s all about money, right?” Pelosi said. “Our concern is that the additional initiatives that have been added for veterans ... whether you approve of the policy or not, they have become the law, and we need to cover them.”
A source familiar with the discussions said the White House is opposed to funding the VA private care program outside of the regular spending caps, and believes there is room within the budget limits to accommodate them.
Another ongoing issue is how much of the spending cap increases should be offset through other money-generating provisions.
According to people close to the talks, the White House is exploring the possibility of extending the current discretionary spending caps, set to expire after fiscal 2021, into later years, which would technically create offsets for new spending over the next two years.
A GOP aide also said there has been discussion of extending the automatic cuts affecting mandatory programs that do not require appropriations, which are also part of the 2011 deficit reduction law. Extending those cuts have been part of previous discretionary cap increase deals, and are currently set to run through fiscal 2027.
Paul M. Krawzak and David Lerman contributed to this report.
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