Eager to counter Democratic leaders’ declarations of victory after securing a $1 trillion compromise on 2017 spending with Republicans, the White House deployed its budget director to declare the measure a “really solid deal” for the Trump administration.
“We’re very pleased with the bill,” Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters Monday evening. He added that administration officials spent much of Monday “surprised by some of the criticisms” they were receiving over a bill that included Democratic demands — like aid to Puerto Rico — and excluded funding for construction of President Donald Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Earlier Monday, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said “overwhelmingly, we were very proud with the outcome.”
Mulvaney shined just the latest light on the amount of time Trump administration officials spend reading, watching and dissecting media reports. At several points, he alluded to reports published Monday that described the fiscal 2017 spending deal in what he called inaccurate or less-than-flattering ways for Trump.
Mulvaney, a former GOP House member from South Carolina, said he is pleased that many Democratic members are calling the massive appropriations bill a solid compromise. But he clearly made a late-afternoon appearance in the White House briefing room to try and counter Democrats’ claims of big wins.
Had lawmakers and the Obama administration worked out a spending plan for the remainder of 2017, he said, it would have been a much different deal that excluded several things the Trump administration demanded.
At the top of Mulvaney’s list were additional emergency monies for the Pentagon. While the sum was widely reported as $15 billion, Mulvaney said it was actually $21 billion because the omnibus bill’s base defense appropriations measure contains $6 billion more in additional emergency funding.
Next was $1.5 billion in border security funding that will go for other things, but not for the actual “bricks and mortar” that would be used to erect Trump’s promised border barrier.
And Mulvaney touted the measure’s school choice funding, saying the administration essentially obtained that when Democrats insisted on helping out financially struggling Puerto Rico.
That package of things “lines up perfectly with the president’s priorities,” Mulvaney said. “I’d be hard pressed to figure out how we could fund more of the priorities.”
The bipartisan bill is expected to hit the House floor as soon as Wednesday, where it should pass with no drama. From there, it is expected to be quickly sent to Trump’s desk by the Senate before an 11:59 p.m. Friday government shutdown deadline.
The lack of border wall funding was a big topic on Monday, but Mulvaney said administration officials gave up that fight early last week as negotiations headed for the homestretch.
“This is only a five-month plan,” he said, referring to the amount of time left in fiscal 2017. “And once we looked our hands over, we realized it was almost impossible to get bricks and mortar on the ground in five months.”
When asked how the administration plans to advocate for border wall funding in fiscal 2018 — particularly among Democrats, who are staunchly opposed to a physical wall — Mulvaney said “a lot can happen in five months.”
“Maybe we can prove to folks in both parties we are serious about this,” Mulvaney said, adding the border wall is “not just some campaign promise.”
The administration and congressional Republicans also were unable to use the spending measure to strip Planned Parenthood of some or all of its federal funding. After speaking with “pro-life leaders on and off the Hill,” Mulvaney said, the administration realized that if they wanted to defund Planned Parenthood in the long-term the “opportunity to do that is on the AHCA – the American Health Care Act.”
Mulvaney said administration officials hope that a second try at a House vote to repeal and replace Barack Obama’s 2010 health law can get to the floor this week.)
If it doesn’t — or is defeated — Mulvaney appeared relieved that the spending measure is poised to pass both chambers by Friday. That means Trump is days away from signing his first major substantive legislation, his OMB chief said.
It is expected to pass with a mixture of Republican and Democratic votes, with conservatives voting against it. Mulvaney was asked what he would tell his former mates in far-right factions.
“To my Republican friends, I would say, ‘If you are serious about seeing the President advance his agenda, you should vote for the bill,’” Mulvaney told reporters.
Jennifer Shutt and Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.