More than two months into the fiscal year and with just days left before a temporary spending bill expires, congressional leaders and President Donald Trump are scheduled to sit down Thursday to discuss key spending issues.
The meeting comes a little more than a week after the two Democratic leaders, Charles E. Schumer in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi in the House, opted to skip a meeting on the same topic, after Trump tweeted that he didn’t see a deal happening. And it will occur a little more than a day before the current continuing resolution funding the government expires at the end of Dec. 8. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan went ahead without them to the White House last week.
In a joint statement about the upcoming session, Schumer and Pelosi said Monday they “hope the President will go into this meeting with an open mind, rather than deciding that an agreement can’t be reached beforehand.”
The Democratic leaders stressed the need for parity on defense and nondefense spending increases above the statutory caps in budget law. They also want concessions on immigration-related policies such as helping some 800,000 “Dreamers,” the young adults brought to the United States illegally as children, in exchange for border protection measures sought by the Trump administration.
Watch: Ryan: House Will Pass Short-Term CR, Shutdown Up to Senate Democrats
“We need to reach a budget agreement that equally boosts funds for our military and key priorities here at home including the opioid crisis, pension plans and rural infrastructure,” Pelosi and Schumer said. “We have to provide funding for community health centers and [the Children’s Health Insurance Program], as well as relief for the millions of Americans still reeling from natural disasters. And we must also come together on a bipartisan deal to pass the Dream Act along with tough border security measures. There is a bipartisan path forward on all of these items.”
The impasse on fiscal 2018 spending levels and general discord between Democrats and the White House has led to increased speculation about a partial government shutdown when the bill funding the government expires Friday.
House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen has introduced a two-week spending bill, expiring Dec. 22, that the New Jersey Republican hopes will provide time for lawmakers and the administration to reach agreement on key spending issues and for the committee to begin putting together an omnibus package. The House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday at 2 p.m. to consider the CR, setting up a likely House floor vote on Wednesday.
But, whether the temporary spending bill can pass the House remains to be seen. Republicans will need both Senate and House Democratic votes to get the bill to Trump’s desk.
Typically, GOP bills can pass the House without Democratic votes, but the Freedom Caucus has expressed frustration that the CR will not extend into the new year. Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker of North Carolina has also criticized the bill — meaning Democratic votes are probably needed to avoid a partial government shutdown when the clock strikes midnight Friday.
So far, Democratic leaders have been coy about how they’ll vote on the legislation.
If the White House meeting goes well, it could provide not only the votes for the temporary spending bill but momentum to move fiscal 2018 spending legislation forward. A senior Democratic aide said support for a temporary two-week patch will take into consideration whether or not budget talks are on a trajectory toward a bipartisan outcome on spending.
Rep. John Yarmuth, ranking member of the House Budget Committee, indicated Sunday that Democrats are already planning to help pass the Dec. 22 continuing resolution. But it remains unclear how willing Democrats will be to punt final fiscal 2018 talks into the new year.
“Our leadership has been in conversations with their leadership for a long time. So, I know, I think we are perfectly willing to go until the 22nd. But past that, we are not,” the Kentucky Democrat told CNN.
A top aide to McConnell also expressed optimism there would be enough votes for the bill to pass the Senate. Don Stewart, McConnell’s deputy chief of staff, noted on Twitter that the Senate will have a busy week, voting to confirm Kirstjen Nielsen as Homeland Security secretary, pass “a clean, two-week CR” and go to conference with the House on the tax bill.
McConnell himself on Sunday dismissed the possibility of a shutdown.
“Look, there’s not going to be a government shutdown, it’s just not going to happen,” the Kentucky Republican said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.