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Republican strategists are urging the White House to quickly cut deals with members of both parties to wrap up long-overdue spending bills and avoid any threat of a government shutdown on the 100-day mark of President Donald Trump’s term.
With the new administration still reeling from a failed effort to move health-care legislation, Trump needs to strike agreements to avert any crisis over government funding that causes federal monies to lapse April 28, K Street strategists said.
“If he’s smart, he knows the last thing he needs is a major dislocation on government funding,” said Jim Dyer, a principal at the Podesta Group and former Republican staff director of the House Appropriations Committee.
Dyer said he expects the details of the fiscal year 2017 omnibus package that GOP leaders want to pass won’t be seen any earlier than April 24, or only a few days before a stopgap now funding the government expires. But Trump should be prepared to accept that the package won’t contain the $18 billion in cuts his administration asked appropriators to include—or the $1 billion for the U.S.-Mexico border wall that both Republicans and Democrats oppose.
“What the Pentagon needs now more than anything else is the fiscal ’17 [defense] bill,” Dyer told Bloomberg BNA. “They’re going to have a hell of a fight down the road [on FY 2018] but for now, they need to get this omnibus done.”
House and Senate GOP leaders agreed to shelve the 11 annual spending bills for the fiscal year that began last October in order to give the new president more say over federal spending decisions. But the continuing resolution that was passed to cover the government now is due to expire less than five days after lawmakers return from a two-week spring recess. The latter is set to start April 7.
Former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R), who also served in the House, told Bloomberg BNA that the expected increases for the Defense Deparment in the emerging package more than offset any losses and the administration’s energies need to focus on reviving health-care legislation, a comprehensive tax overhaul, and other matters down the road.
“My observation would be, `Don’t get caught up in April 28 politics,’ ” said Ehrlich, now senior counsel to the firm of King & Spalding. “We have far more important issues looming.”
Dyer said the days leading up to lawmakers’ break are critical. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are working to nail down the details—and votes—for the omnibus they are expected to unveil the week of April 24. While strategy for moving the package has been in flux, Dyer said his expectation now is that the Senate still will start the action, bringing up the House-passed Department of Defense bill (H.R. 1301) and then tacking on 10 other non-defense spending bills.
But Dyer, who served as a top lobbyist for both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, said that package has to have Democratic support before it can get the 60 votes necessary to clear the Senate. To get there, the omnibus has to follow the parameters of the two-year bipartisan budget agreement that former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) negotiated with Democrats, including a $1.070 trillion annual discretionary cap and its totals for defense and non-defense, he said.
“The basic assumption is they’ll settle them all and do it under the caps, which is a big deal,” Dyer said. “It will be an omnibus and a supp[lemental]—with Pentagon money and border security money but nothing for the wall.”
But it is yet to be seen how the White House will react to a plan that ignores both the domestic program cuts it recently sent to Capitol Hill and the request to start building the border wall.
For his part, Ehrlich said Trump should avoid the “Washington side story” of the omnibus and focus on the large increase in store for defense programs. Trump requested another $30 billion for the Pentagon and $3 billion for Homeland Security in his supplemental request.
Conservative media outlets and interest groups both are paying less attention to whether Congress embraces Trump’s proposed domestic spending cuts and more to whether the Pentagon gets the increases it needs to address readiness issues and fight wars overseas, Ehrlich said.
“They’re keeping a scorecard and now the next check mark will be increased defense spending,” Ehrlich said. “That will be another success in the next 100 days.”
Dyer said Trump is not the only one that needs a legislative win after the failure of the Affordable Care Act repeal and series of controversies. Congress needs a win, too, he said.
“The institution has to show one small thing and that small thing is that we’re going to pass a bill to fund the government and not shut everything down,” Dyer said.
Former top Democratic aides now on K Street also report that many matters that could have eroded minority support—such as border wall monies—have been put aside.
“There’s the $18 billion in cuts, and I’ve heard from everybody that’s a stumbling block,” said Tom Spulak, chairman of King & Spalding’s government advocacy and public policy group. He previously served as House Rules Committee staff director when Democrats controlled the chamber. “But at the same time you also can increase Defense spending by having the omnibus, so which is more important?”
Stan Collender, executive vice president of Qorvis MSLGROUP, said he is still not convinced that either the House Freedom Caucus or the White House will go along with what is sent over from the Senate. He told Bloomberg BNA that he finds it somewhat telling that McConnell said during an April 2 interview that the Senate—rather than Congress—will pass legislation to avoid any funding crisis.
In an April 2 blog post Collender suggested Ryan was on a “collision course” with the White House when he said that the 2017 omnibus may not be the best way or time to deal with Planned Parenthood funding.
Someone like Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, might advise him to block the omnibus if it lacks money for starting a border wall, said Collender, also a former Democratic aide in the House and Senate.
“People like Bannon might think a shutdown for a week might be a good idea,” Collender said.
Collender said he also doesn’t think any final omnibus will be seen until the eve of a vote.
“It basically gives the House no choice—either accept it or reject it but don’t screw around with it,” Collender said.
“Any legislative riders are likely to be the equivalent of poison pill riders and stop it in its tracks,” Collender said. “If the Senate doesn’t produce a clean bill that basically invites the House to add 20 riders of its own.”
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