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House Democrats Ready Strategy to Reopen Government, Deny Trump Wall Money
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=49858"><span class="small">Erica Werner and Seung Min Kim, The Washington Post</span></a>   
Monday, 31 December 2018 15:25

Excerpt: "Democrats have settled on a strategy for attempting to reopen the government when they take control of the House on Thursday, aimed at ending the partial shutdown quickly - but denying President Trump the new money he wants for a border wall."

Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) leaves a meeting at the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 12, 2018. (photo: Matt McClain/AP)
Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) leaves a meeting at the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 12, 2018. (photo: Matt McClain/AP)


House Democrats Ready Strategy to Reopen Government, Deny Trump Wall Money

By Erica Werner and Seung Min Kim, The Washington Post

31 December 18

 

emocrats have settled on a strategy for attempting to reopen the government when they take control of the House on Thursday, aimed at ending the partial shutdown quickly — but denying President Trump the new money he wants for a border wall.

Democrats plan to pass a stopgap spending bill to fund the Homeland Security Department through Feb. 8. The bill would extend the existing $1.3 billion spending level on border fencing and other security measures, far short of the $5 billion Trump has sought to build new walls along the U.S.-Mexico border.

But unless Trump retreats on his demands, Democrats’ legislation would not move Washington much closer to ending the partial shutdown, which has dragged on for more than a week and sent hundreds of thousands of federal workers home on furlough.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday the Senate would only bring up legislation that has Trump’s blessing. And with talks at a standstill for days, Trump himself remained bunkered in the White House Monday, tweeting out demands for Democrats to accede to his wishes.

“I’m in the Oval Office. Democrats, come back from vacation now and give us the votes necessary for Border Security, including the Wall,” Trump wrote.

The White House had no immediate comment Monday on the House Democrats’ plan.

Under Democrats’ approach, the House would also pass a package of six other spending bills to fund an array of federal agencies that have been shuttered since Dec. 22, including the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce and Justice Departments. Workers at those agencies and others are facing the possibility of missing paychecks if Congress and the White House can’t reach a deal.

Those six spending bills would found the agencies through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, at levels already embraced on a bipartisan basis in the Senate — an approach aimed at pressuring the Senate to go along.

The stopgap bill the House plans to pass funding the Homeland Security Department through Feb. 8 takes a similar approach to a short-term spending bill the Senate passed the week before Christmas — only to watch Trump renounce it the very next day. McConnell, who will remain in control of the Senate in 2019 even as the House flips to Democratic control, does not want to put his members in that position again.

“It’s simple: The Senate is not going to send something to the president that he won’t sign,” Don Stewart, McConnell’s spokesman, wrote in an email Monday.

The bills to reopen government will be among the first votes cast by Democrats when they take control of the House and open the 116th Congress on Jan. 3. The legislation is expected to be made public later Monday. Details were confirmed by two House Democratic aides speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement.

The construction of a wall along the Mexican border was one of Trump’s top campaign promises in 2016 and early in his presidency, and he vowed to make Mexico pay for it all. More recently, he has asked for taxpayer money to build the wall and said Mexico will indirectly pay for it later, but his aides have struggled to explain how that would happen.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is expected to be elected speaker later this week, has called the wall “immoral” and said her new majority will not pay for it.

House Democrats settled on the approach of funding the Homeland Security Department on a short-term basis after liberals objected to a proposal to fund the agency through the remainder of the 2018 fiscal year, even without increasing spending at the border.

A coalition of advocacy groups including the ACLU and others sent Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) a letter on Friday opposing extending funding for the Homeland Security Agency for a full year, citing concerns that such an approach “clearly funds Trump’s wall project and must be rejected.”

A spokeswoman for the ACLU said Monday that the group supports extending Homeland Security funding only to Feb. 8, an approach that would allow newly empowered Democrats more latitude in determining the agency’s budget for the remainder of the 2018 fiscal year.

Trump has continued to publicly press Democrats to cave.

“It’s incredible how Democrats can all use their ridiculous sound bite and say that a Wall doesn’t work. It does, and properly built, almost 100%! They say it’s old technology - but so is the wheel. They now say it is immoral- but it is far more immoral for people to be dying!” Trump wrote in another tweet.

Trump canceled a planned trip to his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., to stay in Washington to deal with the shutdown, but he has not been in touch with Democratic leaders. There have been no face-to-face negotiations since Vice President Mike Pence and others held meetings at the Capitol on Dec. 22, the day the shutdown began. Pence made Democrats an offer that lowered proposed spending on the wall, but they rejected it in part because it included what they termed a $400,000 “slush fund” that Trump could have spent on other immigration priorities.

The result of the impasse is the longest partial government shutdown since a 16-day standoff in 2013 over the Affordable Care Act.

Some 800,000 workers have been impacted by the shutdown, with an estimated 350,000 furloughed at home and the others still working because their jobs are deemed “essential.” Thus far workers have not missed a paycheck, but that will begin to happen if the shutdown is not resolved by early January.

“The biggest reaction still remains anxiety: When will this end?” said Rep. Gerald E. Connelly (D-Va.), whose northern Virginia district is home to tens of thousands of federal workers. “Coupled with now the creeping reality of the financial consequences if this goes on too long, everything from, ‘Can I pay rent on time?’ to ‘What kind of obligations, if any, can I incur while it’s uncertain whether I get a paycheck?’”

Despite Republicans holding a bigger majority in the Senate in the next Congress, some Democratic votes will still be needed to pass funding legislation there, and Democratic senators have been resolute against wall funding even among their more moderate members.

That much was clear soon after the November midterms, when Schumer started gauging where his members would be on $5 billion of border wall funding, through one-on-one conversations in his office. Repeatedly, Democratic senators told Schumer that they would support money for border security, but not Trump’s specific request, according to a person familiar with the conversations who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe them.

The agencies affected by the shutdown comprise about 25 percent of the portion of the federal government that is funded by Congress. The Pentagon is mostly not affected, since a spending bill for the military passed by Congress and signed by Trump earlier in 2018. Congress and Trump also passed legislation to fund the Labor Department, Health and Human Services Department and others in 2018, before Trump’s demands for wall money ground negotiations on other spending bills to a halt.

Programs like Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid also are unaffected, since their budgets proceed automatically without the need for annual congressional appropriations. The Russia investigation of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III also is unaffected since it is paid for by a permanent, dedicated funding stream.

In an issue unrelated to the border wall, but also important to federal workers, the package of full-year bills Democrats plan to pass would include a 1.9 percent raise for civilian workers that Trump has sought to deny.

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