- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2017

Despite intensifying clashes over several hot-button spending issues, budget negotiators continued to profess optimism Monday that they would avoid a government shutdown next week, and Trump administration officials refused even to discuss contingency plans in case the deal collapses.

A Capitol Hill Republican close to the negotiations acknowledged that “none of these [appropriations] bills is an easy lift,” noting unresolved disputes over boosting Pentagon spending and on cutting funding for Obamacare, the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Still, both sides insisted that they could get reach an agreement before government funding runs out April 28, just four days after Congress returns from a spring break.

The negotiations have been proceeding while Congress is out. No breakthroughs have been reported.

Amid the talks, White House officials declined to discuss a government shutdown or any plans to minimize the impact on citizens.

Democrats succeeded in blaming congressional Republicans in 2013, when the government closed down for 16 days over moves to end Obamacare.

Laboring to avoid another shutdown, Republicans are prepared to trim President Trump’s agenda to win support from Democrats.

The party leaders need Democrats’ votes to clear not only the narrowly divided Senate but also the House, where the conservative Freedom Caucus threatens a repeat of the revolt against Republican leadership that sunk an attempt last month to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The standoff puts in jeopardy several of Mr. Trump’s campaign promises in the funding package that will cover the remaining six months of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. His push to slash domestic spending and boost military spending, and his promise to defund Planned Parenthood, to rein in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and to punish sanctuary cities are all on the bargaining table.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, has warned that any “poison pill” policy riders would galvanize his members to defeat the package.

Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress and the White House, insisted that Democrats don’t have as much leverage as they claim.

“It’s going to be a compromise,” said a Republican involved in the process. “Nobody is going to placate the Democrats. It’s going to be a Republican package.”

Congress could push back the deadline with a short-term funding bill, giving themselves a week or two to iron out any differences. But the Pentagon has warned against a short-term measure because it could delay new programs and reduce budget flexibility needed for fighting wars.

Whether it gets a vote next week or soon thereafter, Republicans need a long-term spending package that is acceptable to enough Democrats to get it across the finish line and to Mr. Trump’s desk.

The potential for a shutdown increased when Mr. Trump last week threatened to cut off critical Obamacare payments to insurers unless Democrats agree to enter talks about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

“If Congress doesn’t approve it, or if I don’t approve it, that would mean that Obamacare doesn’t have enough money, so it dies immediately as opposed to over a period of time,” Mr. Trump told The Wall Street Journal.

The cost-sharing payments, which totaled about $7 billion last year, are critical to the survival of Obamacare. Without the payments, plans would likely drop out or raise their premiums across the board.

Democrats signaled that they think Mr. Trump is cornered on the “cost sharing” payments, which were designed to help insurance companies cover losses from low-income customers.

A federal court invalidated the payments, saying the Obama administration spent the money even though Congress specifically stripped the funds from its annual spending bills. The Obama administration nevertheless continued to distribute the funds while the case is appealed.

If Congress puts the money into the new spending bill, it likely would spell victory for the appeal by Obamacare supporters, removing the underpinning of the original ruling.

Refusing to include the “cost sharing” payments likely would help unify Capitol Hill Democrats in opposition to the funding package and hasten a government shutdown.

Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.



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