Trump officials, congressional leaders make ‘progress’ on budget talks

A follow-up meeting is scheduled to begin Tuesday afternoon

Mick Mulvaney, acting White House Chief of Staff and director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin walk through the Capitol after participating in a budget meeting about reaching possible agreement on the debt limit and spending caps with Congressional leaders Tuesday, May 21, 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Congressional leaders and top Trump administration officials made “progress” toward a spending caps and debt limit agreement during a two-hour meeting Tuesday morning and are planning to meet again in the afternoon, according to acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

The meeting included Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought as well as Mulvaney.

[Top Democrats wary of attaching debt limit to wrap-up spending measure]

“We’re coming back later today,” Mulvaney said, declining to detail what progress was made or whether the talks remain limited to spending levels and the debt limit.

The discussions were the first round of high-level talks needed to avoid a $125 billion cut in fiscal 2020 discretionary spending from current levels. In fiscal 2021, the final year of the automatic reductions — known as a sequester — imposed by a 2011 law, spending caps would rise only 2 percent above the 2020 lows.

“Everybody’s looking to get a two-year agreement. We had progress today and we’ll continue going forward,” McCarthy told reporters after the meeting.

[On the debt limit, the best fiscal game is the one not played]

The next meeting is scheduled to begin at 4:15 p.m., according to Schumer. “We have some differences, but there’s some good progress being made,” he said.

Negotiators also have to resolve how to handle the debt limit, which was reinstated March 2 but which Congress may not have to address until the fall because of tax revenue inflows and accounting tricks Treasury can employ.

Democrats have pressed to attach debt limit legislation to a spending caps deal, but the White House has sought to keep the two issues separate. Schumer suggested that talks Tuesday hadn’t resolved the matter.

“We’ve all agreed debt ceiling can be part of an overall deal, but ... we’re not discussing that,” Schumer said.

Both sides have something at stake in the spending talks. Republicans want to avoid an 11 percent cut to defense appropriations in fiscal 2020, while Democrats want to stave off a 9 percent cut to domestic and foreign aid programs that would otherwise trigger 15 days after the end of the first session of this Congress.

“We have certain domestic needs that are very important to us,” Schumer said. “We’re trying to come to an agreement.”

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