Still reeling from their health care reform debacle last week, congressional Republican leaders appear more willing to stiff President Trump on initial funding for his wall along the border with Mexico than risk a fight with Democrats that could result in a government shutdown.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decided late last year to postpone final action on more than $1 trillion of discretionary spending for the 2017 fiscal year that runs through Sept. 30 in order to give the newly elected president an opportunity to put his stamp on spending priorities.
But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has declared Trump’s request for $1.4 billion in the current budget for preliminary planning for construction of the wall along nearly 2,000 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border a “poison pill” that would prompt a Democratic filibuster and the likelihood the spending bill would go down.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, told reporters Tuesday afternoon that Trump’s supplemental funding request will have to wait until later this year, when Congress turns to spending for fiscal 2018.
He said that leaders of the Senate and House are close to reaching a final agreement to keep the government operating through the remainder of the 2017 fiscal year, and suggested they didn’t want to gum things up with Trump’s request. Trump already has requested an additional $2.6 billion in fiscal 2018 to design the wall and set a construction timeline for arguably Trump’s most expensive and controversial infrastructure project – one that could cost $25 billion overall.
Lawmakers are growing increasingly anxious as they approach an April 28 deadline, when the continuing resolution under which the government is currently operating will expire without a replacement spending package. Without new spending authority, the government will begin to shut down the following day.
Trump and his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, caused an uproar March 16 with a budget request for fiscal 2018 that includes $54 billion in additional funding for defense and dollar-for-dollar offsetting cuts in most government departments except for Defense and Homeland Security. The Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department and foreign aid programs, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other agencies would take significant hits of as much as 31 percent.
Trump is also hoping to squeeze an additional $30 billion for defense out of this year’s spending that would necessitate billions of dollars more of cuts in medical research grants, education and foreign aid.
With GOP lawmakers in no mood for another high profile showdown with the Democrats over their pet domestic programs, Trump may be in for another big disappointment.