Congress is poised to approve the first major bipartisan legislation of Donald Trump’s presidency this week after lengthy negotiations.
Here’s a look at the winners and losers of the battle to pass an omnibus spending deal that will keep the government funded through September.
They may not control the White House or either chamber of Congress, but Democrats emerged from the negotiations with plenty to crow about. They not only forced GOP leaders to abandon drastic spending cuts favored by the White House, but also stripped out scores of conservative policy amendments the Republicans had hoped to enact under a unified government.
The Democrats’ list of victories is long: no funding for Trump’s promised southern border wall; no penalty for “sanctuary cities” that resist federal immigration laws; no rollback of environmental programs; no gutting of consumer financial protections.
They also secured funding for ObamaCare subsidies, Planned Parenthood, miners’ health benefits and Medicaid payments for Puerto Rico.
The negotiations also sent a resounding message to Washington ahead of future spending fights: Democrats may not control the levers of power, but they have plenty of sway over must-pass legislation — and they intend to use it.
Republicans in Congress were desperate for a win after the struggle over ObamaCare repeal, even if the bar was as low as keeping the government’s lights on.
GOP lawmakers recognized they’d likely be blamed for a shutdown while holding unified control of Congress and the White House. The bipartisan deal ensures they avoid that while also securing additional defense spending and freezing the IRS’s budget, both top GOP priorities.
But to get there, Republicans had to turn to Democrats to help shepherd a spending deal through both chambers for two reasons: Senate Democrats’ ability to filibuster and expected conservative defectors.
House GOP leaders have repeatedly needed Democrats to help pass spending bills since taking control in 2011. That dynamic hasn’t changed despite the presence of a Republican in the White House.
Coal miners are cheering this week’s spending package, which secured healthcare benefits for retirees from the industry who’d been threatened for years with losing coverage.
The provision is a victory for coal-country lawmakers of both parties, as well, with no minor assist from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose full-throated endorsement last week all but ensured the provision’s inclusion.
But the fight is not over for the miners. The package punted on the issue of miners’ pensions — another promised benefit on the chopping block — leaving that debate for another day.
The spending deal provides $15 billion in supplemental defense funding requested by the Trump administration, though it is short of the original $30 billion request.
About $2.5 billion of the supplemental funding for the fight against ISIS is contingent upon the Trump administration outlining a strategy for defeating the terrorist group. Lawmakers have been urging Trump to provide Congress with his plan for defeating ISIS and resolving the civil war in Syria since he launched cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield last month.
The legislation also authorizes the largest pay raise for the military in six years, 2.1 percent, higher than the Obama administration’s proposed 1.6 percent.
The country’s most prominent reproductive healthcare provider has long been the target of Republicans infuriated that taxpayer dollars subsidize the group. And while Speaker
Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) indicated early on that Republicans would fight the Planned Parenthood battle outside the current spending debate, there was plenty of pressure from conservatives on and off of Capitol Hill to deny the group funding in the omnibus.
It didn’t happen.
Democrats signaled all along that any such provision would, by itself, end their support. And with the funding secured, they were quick to claim victory on behalf of the millions of women who use Planned Parenthood services each year.
National Institutes of Health
The Trump administration had proposed cutting the National Institutes of Health budget by $1.2 billion for the rest of the current fiscal year. Instead, both parties effectively ignored the White House and gave the NIH a $2 billion increase. That’s in addition to a similar budget hike the NIH secured last year, which was the largest funding boost it had received in more than a decade. The extra funding will go toward research for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other brain disorders.
Despite his party’s control of Congress, Trump had to make significant concessions to Democrats to ensure the government wouldn’t shut down a few months into his term. He backed off demands that the spending package include a down payment on his promised border wall, as well as his threat to stop reimbursing health insurers who cover low-income ObamaCare enrollees.
Trump and his team had agreed with GOP leaders late last year to punt a long-term spending package until the end of April instead of finalizing the fiscal year’s spending under then-President Barack Obama. GOP appropriators were dismayed by the decision, insisting that Trump didn’t need a messy spending fight three months into his presidency. But conservatives argued that delaying the negotiations would give the party more leverage.
In the end, Trump will have to sign a compromise bill that largely ignores his budget proposal to vastly cut domestic spending. But it’s a recognition of the realities of governing: Accepting a deal with concessions to Democrats is better for Trump than facing a potentially disastrous shutdown 100 days into his presidency.
Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney
Trump’s budget director, a former House lawmaker from South Carolina, had pressed GOP leaders throughout the omnibus debate on two fronts: He wanted to slash domestic spending, and he wanted to deny certain funds to sanctuary cities.
He got neither.
The deal unveiled Sunday provides a $15 billion boost to domestic spending — equal to the defense hike and a far cry from the $18 billion cut Trump and Mulvaney had pushed — and it excludes fiscal penalties for cities that refuse to share immigration information with federal authorities.
Amid the ObamaCare subsidy debate, Mulvaney allegedly told House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that, absent congressional action, the administration would stop the payments as soon as May. The White House denied the claim, but the episode put Mulvaney in an unflattering light after Trump promised Democrats the very next day that he’d continue the payments.
House Freedom Caucus
The House Freedom Caucus is flexing its muscles this year, already upending the GOP’s effort to repeal ObamaCare. But in the current spending debate, Republican leaders largely left the far-right group in the cold.
The omnibus package busts through spending caps established in a previous budget law; it includes few of the hard-line immigration enforcement provisions favored by the group; and it is accompanied by Trump’s promise to continue paying ObamaCare subsidies even as Freedom Caucus members are urging full repeal of the law.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a founding member of the group, voiced his frustration Monday, saying he’ll oppose the omnibus and expects “a lot of conservatives” to join him.
“Why did we last fall do a short-term spending bill if we weren’t going to actually fight for the things we told the voters we were going to fight for?” he told CNN’s “New Day” program.
It’s not all bad news for the Freedom Caucus. By voting against the measure without fear of causing a shutdown, members can both avoid blowback from GOP leaders and claim a personal victory to carry back to their conservative districts.
Democrats had originally insisted that the spending deal specifically appropriate the funds for ObamaCare’s payments that help health insurers offset costs for low-income customers.
The Trump administration told lawmakers it would continue the payments despite the president’s threat to halt them, which was enough of a compromise for Democrats. But it’s hardly the certainty that health insurers were asking for.
It’s unclear how long the Trump administration will keep issuing the critical payments amid the House GOP’s struggle to advance a bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare. For now, insurers will have to settle for hoping Trump keeps his word.