Congress is returning to Washington after a two-week recess with only a few days to prevent a looming government shutdown.
Lawmakers have until Friday night to pass funding legislation to keep the government open past April 28. The 11th-hour fight comes as the Trump administration is heading toward its 100th day without any major legislative victories.
Negotiations to avert a shutdown appeared to reach a stalemate late last week following a White House push to include funding for the U.S.-Mexico border wall in the bill.
Mick Mulvaney, President Trump’s budget chief, said the wall is the administration’s “top priority” for the talks, adding they would support key ObamaCare payments to insurers if Democrats backed the border wall money.
“We’d offer them $1 of CSR payments for $1 of wall payments. Right now that’s the offer that we’ve given to our Democratic colleagues,” Mulvaney said during a Bloomberg Live interview, referring to the ObamaCare payments known as cost-sharing reduction (CSR).
Mulvaney added that the administration had “finally boiled this negotiation down” to the border wall and the CSR payments, which reimburse insurers for giving discounted deductibles to low-income ObamaCare enrollees.
But Democrats immediately shot down the idea.
Matt House, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), rejected the floated trade.
“The White House gambit to hold hostage health care for millions of Americans, in order to force American taxpayers to foot the bill for a wall that the President said would be paid for by Mexico is a complete non-starter,” House said.
He added that “if the administration would drop their 11th hour demand for a wall that Democrats, and a good number of Republicans oppose, Congressional leaders could quickly reach a deal.”
Democrats have warned for weeks that Republicans would be prompting a government shutdown if they included border wall funding in the bill, calling the money a “poison pill” that would effectively kill the legislation.
Despite controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House, Republicans are expected to need Democratic help to pass a spending bill — given intraparty divisions in the House — and avoid a filibuster in the Senate.
“Any bill with a hope of passing the Senate will need Democratic votes in the House,” said Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
GOP leadership had also appeared poised to leave a down payment for the border wall out of the fiscal year 2017 bill.
“My guess is that comes together better without the supplemental,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told reporters late last month when asked about the wall funding.
Pressed on Friday if he would accept border security funding, instead of money specifically for the wall, Mulvaney demurred, though he warned that “elections have consequences.”
“This president should be allowed to have his highest priorities funded even though the Democrats rightly have a seat at the table because of the Senate rules,” he told Bloomberg Live. “But you cannot expect a president who just won [an] election to give up very easily on his highest priority.”
It’s possible lawmakers will turn to a weeklong funding patch by the end of the week to avoid a shutdown and buy themselves more time to negotiate a larger package.
Mulvaney said Friday that an extension was “much more likely,” saying there wasn’t an “atmosphere” in either Congress or the White House for a shutdown.
The House is only scheduled to be in session for two weeks before another 10-day recess starting on May 5.
Pushing back a vote on a longer-term spending bill into next week would also add pressure on lawmakers to pass it to avoid canceling the May recess.
If the House were to vote on a larger package this week, legislation would have to be unveiled by Wednesday at the latest to adhere to the GOP’s rule requiring it be public for at least three calendar days before a floor vote.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will also need every senator to sign off on speeding up the Senate’s consideration of the spending deal if it doesn’t arrive in the upper chamber until the end of the week.
The House weekly schedule distributed by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) office noted that “additional legislative items are possible” beyond a government spending measure and other miscellaneous bills regarding copyrights and the Freedom of Information Act.
The House GOP conference as a whole isn’t any closer to a vote on legislation to repeal and replace the 2010 healthcare law than it was before the April recess.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), a co-chair of the centrist Tuesday Group, negotiated a proposed amendment over the break that would allow states to apply for a waiver from a key ObamaCare provision that prevents insurance companies from raising premiums regardless of individuals’ health status, as long as alternatives like high-risk pool coverage were offered.
But there is no legislative text of the proposal for members to view. And House GOP leaders haven’t been able to conduct a formal whip count over the recess to know if the proposed changes could sway enough votes.
A House vote this week is unlikely, given that lawmakers are only just returning from recess and have to first deal with the government spending fight.
Senate Republicans also pushed back on reports that Budget Committee staff had started working on the House bill.
A senior White House official told CNBC that committee staffers were working on language and hoped to send it out by Saturday.
Senate Republican sources said that “no language under consideration in the House has been drafted by the Senate Budget Committee.”
“The only language on the ACA Repeal and Replace bill that may be considered in the House is the language that has been drafted by the House. We only are providing technical assistance, but are not drafting or writing any language,” they added.
The Senate will vote on two Trump nominees this week as lawmakers continue to hammer out a deal on government funding.
Senators will vote Monday evening on Sonny Perdue to be Trump’s Agriculture secretary, after Trump’s pick cleared the Senate Agriculture Committee by a voice vote.
Perdue is expected to easily clear the Senate chamber after a smooth confirmation hearing, where he promised to expand trade for U.S. agriculture and push back against cuts to the department’s budget.
Trump’s budget proposed slashing the Agriculture Department’s funding by 21 percent — a cut of $4.7 billion to $17.9 billion, which is the third-largest cut to any federal agency.
The Senate will also take an initial vote on Monday night on Rod Rosenstein’s nomination to be deputy attorney general at the Department of Justice. The move will set up a final vote on Rosenstein as late as Wednesday morning if lawmakers drag out the clock.
Rosenstein is expected to earn Democratic support after he was approved by the Judiciary Committee earlier this month in a 19-1 vote. Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) was the only senator to oppose his nomination.
Rosenstein’s position as the No. 2 official at DOJ will give him control of the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the White House race, including any potential ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a former adviser to the Trump campaign, recused himself from the investigation earlier this year following controversy over his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. during the 2016 campaign.
Democrats pressed Rosenstein during his committee hearing to weigh in on their push for a special prosecutor to look into the Russian interference.
But Rosenstein sidestepped. Noting that he didn’t have the underlying facts, he said in response to a question from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that “I’m simply not in the position to answer that.”
He more broadly committed to appointing a special counsel “whenever I determine it’s appropriate based on the policies and procedures of the Department of Justice.”
Blumenthal has pledged to oppose Rosenstein until he backed appointing a special prosecutor. “Only you have the power to appoint a special prosecutor,” he said during the Trump nominee’s hearing.