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Uphill Path to Spending Deal as Pelosi, Schumer Meet With Trump

Experts see reasons to doubt a deal is done during Tuesday meeting

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., are seen after a news conference in the Capitol on March 22. They are scheduled to meet with President Trump on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., are seen after a news conference in the Capitol on March 22. They are scheduled to meet with President Trump on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump shocked congressional Republicans last year when he cut a deal with Democratic leaders on a short-term debt and spending package. But there are ample reasons to doubt House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer will leave the Oval Office on Tuesday with another win.

The two Democrats are slated to meet privately with the president just days before a deadline to pass something to keep the Department of Homeland Security and several other agencies funded and open beyond Friday night. (Pelosi and Schumer have requested that the meeting be rescheduled to next week, considering this week’s events. A White House official could not confirm that the Tuesday meeting would still happen. “Everything is in flux,” the official said.)

Sources say members likely will send Trump a two-week spending measure to delay a contentious process and floor votes during events in Washington and Texas remembering the late President George H.W. Bush. But even the quick passage of a short stopgap measure will only delay the inevitable, which means resolving a clash between Trump’s demand for $5 billion for his proposed southern border wall and Democrats’ opposition.

Trump agreed in September 2017 to back a three-month debt-limit extension and three-month continuing resolution attached to a Hurricane Harvey relief package.

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Back then, the GOP president rejected several proposals from his own party on extending a borrowing limit deadline during a closed-door Oval Office meeting with the congressional leaders from both parties. He and Hill leaders ultimately agreed to back a three-month debt-limit extension and three-month CR attached to a Hurricane Harvey relief package, both sources said shortly before White House aides and Trump himself confirmed those details. Those were put on the table by top Democrats.

But both sides this time around have reasons to resist even short-term deals.

“What he’s going to give is less,” Marc Short, a former Trump White House legislative liaison, told CNN on Monday after noting his frustration at the time with the short-term 2017 debt and spending deal.

The president realizes Republicans soon will give up the majority in the House, lessening his and the party’s ability to get a deal more in line with his border wall demand, Short added. And with the Pentagon already funded through next September, the threat of leaving troops without needed resources is not present to possibly force Trump’s hand.

For Democrats, there are scant reasons to simply give in to Trump on the border wall money unless he agrees to something like a long-term or permanent fix to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Their ability to secure a deal next year once they control the House will greatly increase. And they know the party in power typically is blamed by voters when all or part of the federal government shuts down. And Republicans will still have more power next year with control of the Senate and White House.

“The first issue is still how to finish out the current Congress and the funding of the wall debate, and how long a continuing resolution extension should be,” said G. William Hoagland, a senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center and longtime staff director of the Senate Budget Committee.

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But the president will have more on his mind than keeping all the federal lights on and his border wall.

“Still lurking in the background will be what the House might do as it relates to investigations. Remember Trump said the day after the election results that he would work with the House but only if they would drop their investigations,” Hoagland said. “And I have to believe, that like [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell’s statement that the GOP would work to make sure that Obama was a one-term president, that Trump will be angling to see how strong Democrats are that he is a one-term president.”

And with talk of a two-week stopgap, former House and Senate Budget staffer Stan Collender said that, even had the 41st president not died this weekend, a delay always seemed likely.

“Congress and the White House had left themselves room to maneuver when they made the original deadline December 7, two weeks before Christmas,” he wrote on his blog. “While they may have hoped and prayed they would be able to resolve the funding fight by this Friday, there was always the possibility that it could be extended.”

As both sides prepare for an eventual fight, a delay may soon be on its way to the president’s desk.

Trump told reporters Saturday night traveling back from Argentina aboard Air Force One that he is open to a two-week stopgap government funding measure as the country remembers Bush and Washington pauses for his funeral.

“If they (lawmakers) come, which they have, to talk about an extension because of President Bush’s passing,” he said, “I would absolutely consider it and probably give it.”

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