With End in Sight for Omnibus, Dissonance Takes Over
Sore feelings take hold even as deal heads to passage
On a day Congress could have spent singing the praises of a bipartisan agreement to wrap up the long-overdue fiscal 2017 spending process, seemingly everyone — from Capitol Hill to the White House — found a way to hit dissonant notes.
“They’re walking around acting like they pulled a fast one on the president, and I just won’t stand for it,” Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said Tuesday afternoon at the third of three press briefings he conducted in a 24-hour period after congressional Democrats started effusively praising the omnibus spending deal as a win for their priorities.
“The Dems have been trying to claim victory on this, which is a very strange way to talk about a bipartisan discussion … and it certainly doesn’t bode very well for future discussions,” Mulvaney said at the White House.
The OMB director’s comments came at virtually the same time House and Senate Republican leaders went out of their way to extol the deal as a win for the GOP, one day after largely staying silent while Democrats were celebrating.
“Well, good afternoon, everyone. Let me start with the omnibus appropriations bill. There are a number of the administration’s and Senate and House Republicans’ priorities in the bill, in spite of my counterparts’ best effort to spin this,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said at a media availability after the senators’ Tuesday policy lunches.
That followed House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s comments in the morning that the omnibus was a win for conservatives, even as that flank of the party was signaling its displeasure with the catch-all wrap-up bill for the fiscal year that started on Oct. 1.
“I cannot understate how much of a game changer this is,” Ryan said, touting the measure’s increases in defense spending, fighting opioids and policy riders on school choice. He emphasized that the lack of parity between defense and nondefense increases was a major accomplishment as Democrats had insisted for equal increases in the two categories under President Barack Obama.
“That was the Obama rule that we lived under for eight years. … This appropriations bill changes all of that,” the speaker said.
That was something McConnell praised in his remarks as well.
‘Cleaned our clock’
Not all McConnell’s GOP colleagues were convinced. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and veteran appropriator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both said they will vote “no” on the omnibus, although Democratic support likely guarantees passage.
“I think the Democrats cleaned our clock. There are things in this bill that I just don’t understand. This was not winning from the Republican point of view,” Graham told CNN on Tuesday.
The Democrats’ hailing of the deal on Monday seemed to set off the GOP, including a tweet from Trump on Tuesday morning, stating that Republicans should force a “good ‘shutdown’” of the government in the fall to do away with the Senate’s filibuster.
“The reason for the plan negotiated between the Republicans and Democrats is that we need 60 votes in the Senate which are not there!” the president tweeted. “We … either elect more Republican Senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51%. Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!.”
McConnell and other Republican senators quickly shot down that proposal, but the tweet set the tone for the day, and riled House conservatives already unhappy with the measure they are set to vote on Wednesday.
“That’s the mark of a good leader,” Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert said when told about Trump’s tweet. “I wasn’t aware of that tweet but I think that’s the sign of a real leader who knows how to negotiate. So I think it’s great.”
On the other hand, later in the day, Trump said at a Rose Garden ceremony that the omnibus might have been a good deal after all.
“In our new budget, and it’s been a very hotly contested budget because as you know we had to go through a long and rigorous process, but we’ve ended years of painful cuts to our military and just achieved a $21 billion increase in defense spending,” he said.
Then he took a swipe at Democrats. “And we didn’t do any touting like the Democrats did.”
Mulvaney, even while defending the current omnibus, didn’t linger for long on what he said was a win, preferring to pitch the debate toward the fall.
“This puts [fiscal 2017] to an end but the discussion about [fiscal 2018] funding begins right now,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer seemed more diplomatic in talking about the deal on Tuesday, going out of his way to talk about the deal’s extension of miners’ health benefits and praising his usual nemesis.
“Our Republican colleagues, I give them a lot of credit. Mitch McConnell worked — we worked very well together … we all worked as a team. And we came up with a very good solution for the people here,” Schumer said.
But there was still room for a mention of Trump. “Unfortunately, the president did not play much of a role, much of a positive role in these budget negotiations, but hopefully, that might change because the results have been so good and so fine,” the Democratic leader said.
Regardless of the cranky atmosphere, and even with a significant amount of GOP defections, the omnibus is on a glide path. The typically cantankerous House Rules Committee approved a closed rule on Tuesday afternoon for the measure on a quick voice vote, sending it to the floor for a Wednesday vote in that chamber.
And as if to put an emphasis on the likely end result, regardless of carping and complaints about who won or lost, the White House issued a statement of administration policy late in the afternoon, stating plainly: “If the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017 were presented to the President in its current form, his advisors would recommend that he sign the bill into law.”
Kellie Mejdrich, Rema Rahman, John T. Bennett, Lindsey McPherson, Jennifer Shutt and Ryan McCrimmon contributed to this report.