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Government Shutdown Odds Grow With GOP Border Wall Funding Bill

27 Jul

House Republicans this week are increasing the possibility of a government shutdown in October by moving forward with a $788 billion spending bill that complies with President Donald Trump’s demands to boost the military, reduce clean-energy programs and fund a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Those priorities, especially $1.6 billion in wall funding, guarantee House and Senate Democratic leaders will oppose the bill. Trump has urged his Republican supporters in Congress to fight, saying in May that a “good” shutdown may be needed to advance his agenda.

Republicans are trying to demonstrate unity after months of division over major legislation, including a repeal of Obamacare. Adding the wall funding is intended to attract enough conservative support to spare House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin an embarrassing defeat on the House floor. The Trump administration said it strongly supports the measure, H.R. 3219.

But if an agreement can’t be reached with the Senate, Republicans run the risk of turning off voters with a government shutdown ahead of next year’s congressional elections. Four years ago, Republicans tried and failed to use a government shutdown to end Obamacare, resulting in a deep dip in the polls for the party that GOP leaders don’t want to repeat.

Senate Opposition

The House measure “isn’t going to go anywhere” in the Senate, said Vermont’s Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations panel.

Democrats are demanding that Republicans negotiate a bipartisan deal that combines defense increases with more money for domestic agencies such as the departments of Health and Human Services, Commerce and Education. They argue Republicans are trying to distract from the GOP’s halting efforts to repeal Obamacare or agree on a tax overhaul.

Democratic Representative Ruben Gallego of Arizona said he could have supported the GOP bill without the wall funding. “Nobody likes to be held hostage,” he said in an interview. “There is a risk of a shutdown and it is going to be entirely led by the Republicans and the president.”

With a recess in August and just three House working weeks in September, there’s little time for lawmakers to complete their work on the spending measure. If they don’t, leaders likely would resort to a stopgap spending bill that maintains current funding levels to keep the government operating after Oct. 1. Trump hasn’t said whether he’d sign such a measure that doesn’t include new money for the wall.

Debate is set to start Wednesday on the House floor on a package of four of the 12 spending bills needed to keep the government open after Oct. 1. The bill would fund the departments of Defense, Energy and Veterans Affairs, along with the Army Corps of Engineers and the legislative branch. The $1.6 billion for the wall is being added to the measure in an effort to attract conservative votes.

Conservative Rebuff

Republican leaders had tried to get their members on board with a larger 12-bill package, only to be rebuffed. Some conservatives weren’t willing to commit to the other domestic bills, which eschew most of Trump’s request for deep spending cuts. Moderate Republicans said passing $8 billion in cuts to domestic priorities now would make it harder for their party to agree to spend more money after the Senate rejects the bill.

Leaders assembled the least controversial of the 12 spending bills to reduce the risk of failure.

It’s difficult to oppose giving troops a 2.4 percent pay raise and boosting spending on veterans by $6 billion. The same goes for the increased nuclear weapons funding in the Energy part of the bill and security upgrades for members of Congress after the June shooting of Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana at a congressional baseball practice.

“The highest priority of Congress is to ensure the safety and security of our nation and to guarantee the future of our great democracy — this critical national security legislation needs to head to the floor,” Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, the chairman of the House spending panel, said in a statement.

Some conservatives say they may still rebel against the spending bill because the $72 billion in increased defense spending isn’t fully offset by spending cuts and because it would allow transgender troops to receive medical care related to their gender transition.

“There some things that would have to be fixed before we can support it,” said Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Conservative Tom McClintock of California said he would be uneasy voting for the spending package without prior approval of a budget resolution containing cuts to entitlement programs.

Meanwhile, Democrats plan to use the floor debate to try to embarrass Trump by forcing a vote on a spending ban by federal employees at Trump hotels.

Defense Boost

Voting on the defense spending measure is a clear sign that congressional Republicans are making a priority out of lifting the defense spending cap put in law in 2011. They can’t do that without Senate Democrats, who want similar increases for domestic spending.

Last week, Senate Democrats proposed a deal in which military spending would increase by $54 billion in exchange for an equal increase for domestic agencies. Their proposal was defeated along party lines in a committee vote.

The House bill would provide $9.5 billion for 84 Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 aircraft, while the Pentagon requested 70. The measure proposes $1.8 billion for 24 Boeing Co. F/A-18E/F Super Hornet aircraft, an increase of 10 planes over the Trump budget. It also includes funding for three Littoral Combat Ships, made in competing versions by Lockheed Martin and Austal USA.

The $37.6 billion energy part of the spending bill cuts the non-military part of the Energy Department by $1.7 billion. That level is still $2.3 billion more than Trump requested in his budget. The bill would cut the Energy Department’s clean-energy research division and kills off the agency’s loan-guarantee program for energy companies.