Disagreements over the President’s campaign promise of a border wall are threatening to derail spending negotiations on Capitol Hill, all but assuring Congress will need to pass a short-term continuing resolution in order to avert a government shutdown at the end of the month.
While the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to pass a Defense spending bill and the Energy and Water spending bill Thursday, significant obstacles related to President Donald Trump’s border wall have left negotiators with little choice but to act on a short-term spending bill to ensure the government stays funded past the end of the month.
House Democrats have begun circulating a short-term continuing resolution, which would fund the government through November 21 and keep levels the same as they were for fiscal year 2019. The draft CR was sent to leaders in anticipation that Republicans and Democrats in the Senate won’t be able find a way forward on even a small number of spending bills by end of the month.
The early stumbles spell trouble for Democrats and Republicans to find an agreement at all for the fiscal year 2020 spending bills. The large-scale fight over the President’s border wall has permeated debates over even unrelated spending bills and could make it impossible for Democrats and Republicans to come together by the end of the year.
“I think the wall between Republicans and Democrats up here is just the divisive issue,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, arguing it had overshadowed the entire debate.
On Thursday, the tension over the border wall boiled over during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing with Democrats charging Republicans that they had underfunded domestic priorities like the Labor and Health and Human Services appropriations bill in order to boost funding for Homeland Security and the President’s wall. Democrats also argued Congress needed to limit the President’s transfer authority and his ability to take money from military construction projects and use them to build the wall.
“No matter how we feel about the construction of the wall along the Southern border, we are appropriators, and everyone in this room should be outraged that the President is contorting the law,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and the vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Behind the scenes, Republicans too have grown concerned about the President’s move to take money from already-approved military construction projects, but Republicans have been worried to cross the President publicly.
Asked if the membership wanted to block future presidents from doing what Trump did, one Republican senator lamented, “Do I have to say?”
“If we have any real power in that balance of power, it is the power to decide how to spend the money, and if the Congress ever loses that, you don’t have a lot left to fight,” the senator said.
The fight over spending hit multiple snags in Congress’ first week back from recess, with Democrats threatening to introduce controversial abortion-related amendments to funding bills for foreign operations and labor and health and human services despite an agreement from the summer where lawmakers agreed not to add so-called poison pill amendments. Earlier in the week, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Republican Sen. Dick Shelby of Alabama, announced he was postponing subcommittee hearings on the two bills indefinitely.
“I hope (the border wall) won’t overshadow the entire process,” Shelby told reporters. “I know there are some impediments there, hard feelings and strong views on both sides of that.”