President Donald Trump’s plan to seek federal money to build a border wall is drawing warnings from Democrats, who say the matter could risk a government shutdown next month.
Democrats said they won’t support any supplemental Trump wants to boost Pentagon programs if it also includes a request for federal funds to design and construct the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called it a “poison pill” rider that could threaten appropriators’ efforts to develop and pass an omnibus closing out fiscal year 2017 work before government funds run out in late April.
Schumer said amid reports that Trump will send his request March 16 that Democrats aren’t alone in their objections to having U.S. taxpayers pay for the project.
"[B]oth Democratic and Republican members of Congress that represent the border states object to this wall,” Schumer said in comments on the Senate floor March 13. “It will be inappropriate, in our judgment, to insist on the inclusion of such funding in a must-pass appropriations bill that is needed for the Republican majority in control of Congress to avert a government shutdown,” Schumer said.
Appropriators in both chambers are working on an 11-bill omnibus for 2017 because House and Senate Republican leaders shelved their bills last December in order to give Trump more say over federal spending decisions. Federal funds will lapse if the omnibus isn’t passed by the time a continuing resolution expires April 28.
Trump’s supplemental request is said to be in the range of $30 billion, with the bulk of that for Department of Defense programs and some for border security. Appropriators said they are expected to fold that supplemental into the omnibus. A supplemental funding the wall could jeopardize the entire package, Schumer said.
“The president wants a wall but hasn’t answered so many questions about it,” Schumer said. “What about eminent domain and the procedures to acquire land from private landowners? What’s the design of the wall? Where’s it going to be located? How’s it going to be paid for and how much does it cost? And don’t you think we ought to give the president time to have Mexico pay for the wall? That’s what he said throughout his campaign: Mexico will pay for it.”
Schumer’s comments and a separate letter Democrats sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) earlier March 13 amount to warning shots in this month’s fight over wrapping up the 2017 bills. While lawmakers have been working to reconcile most of the details of the 11 bills, it will be up to McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to soon settle on a strategy for moving the measures across the floor in both houses and to Trump’s desk for signature.
In recent comments, both Democrats and Republicans have said they won’t be able to support any call to provide another $30 billion for defense programs if it means taking money out of the bills covered by non-defense programs. In the letter to McConnell, Democrats said they also are continuing to insist that the regular 2017 appropriations bills reflect the parity contained in the bipartisan budget agreement that former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) negotiated with the Obama administration.
As the leaders develop their strategy, Schumer and other top Democrats said getting the omnibus done by the deadline is doable.
"[T]here is no reason why the two parties should not be able to resolve our differences before then,” Democrats said in the letter. “Under the bipartisan budget agreement reached in 2015, the Congress has already agreed to the spending levels for defense and non-defense programs. We also agreed that any extra funding (beyond that for legitimate Overseas Contingency Operations and emergency expenses) should be divided equally between defense and nondefense priorities. Finally, we agreed that bills to fund the government should not be filled with poison pill riders.”
Democrats said they are encouraged by the bicameral and bipartisan talks that are continuing to finish the bills. They signaled concerns about reports that some bills might not be finished, with the end result a “CRromnibus"—the “cr” standing for a new continuing resolution to fund the government.
"[W]e want to reiterate our position that all 12 appropriations bills should be completed and they should not include poison pill riders such as those that roll back protections for our veterans, environment, consumers, and workers and prohibit funds for critical health care services for women through Planned Parenthood,” Democrats said in the letter. “We strongly oppose the inclusion of such riders in any of the must-pass appropriations bills to fund the government.”
One of the 12 bills—the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill—was passed last fall as the lead vehicle for the continuing resolution.
Bloomberg Philanthropies provides financial support for Planned Parenthood.
The cost of the border wall remains a subject of study at the White House Office of Management and Budget, where Director Mick Mulvaney said it varies depending on the overall design. Estimates start at $8 million per mile and go up to about $25 million per mile, Mulvaney said in recent comments. He said the wall could cover about 2,000 miles.
Trump is determined to have new construction done on the wall before the end of the current fiscal year, Mulvaney said. More money, he said, will be sought in the FY 2018 and FY 2019 budgets.
But Schumer said Trump’s demands may jeopardize the overall process.
“It is truly a poison pill, and we would urge our colleagues not to allow the president to include this in a must-pass bill that avoids a shutdown of the government,” Schumer said.
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