- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2018

Lawmakers insist they’ll finish writing an omnibus spending bill by a March 23 deadline, but funding for a key New York-New Jersey tunnel project — along with other perpetual hot-button issues — is setting the stage for another potential shutdown showdown.

The White House has reportedly threatened to veto the spending bill if it includes $900 million for the project, though officials stopped short of that explicit threat on Monday.

“The administration has been very clear that we don’t think this is an efficient use of taxpayer dollars,” a senior administration official said.

The $30 billion “Gateway” project includes a new train tunnel between New Jersey and Manhattan and repairs to tracks that were damaged during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

The Obama administration reached a deal to share costs but the Trump administration has signaled it won’t be bound by its predecessors.

“The president is concerned about the viability of this project and the fact that New York and New Jersey have no skin in the game,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told lawmakers earlier this month.

Democrats and a number of Republicans from New York and New Jersey are pushing back, urging House Speaker Paul D. Ryan to make the money a priority.

“We urge you to reject any effort to jeopardize this project of national significance,” the GOP lawmakers wrote in a recent letter to Mr. Ryan, also asking to meet personally with the speaker on the matter.

They have high-level backing in Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, the retiring chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, who calls the project an “urgent national infrastructure priority.”

The New Jersey Republican had secured the $900 million in an earlier House version of the annual transportation spending bill.

Now, Congress is rushing to write a catch-all bill to fund all of government for the rest of fiscal year 2018, and Mr. Frelinghuysen will have to convince senators to accept the money.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer is likely to be an ally. He has warned the entire country could plunge into a recession if the Hudson River tunnels can’t function properly.

“From everything I hear it’s all systems move ahead, despite what the president had to say,” said the New York Democrat, who has clashed with Mr. Trump on other issues like taxes and immigration.

Conservatives, though, are raising questions.

“President Trump is absolutely right to threaten to veto the Gateway Giveaway,” said Rep. Ted Budd, a North Carolina Republican who tried to derail some of the $900 million during a floor debate last year.

In addition to the tunnel, lawmakers writing the spending bill say there are other potential snags.

More than 100 House members are lobbying Republican leadership to include a new “conscience clause” in the spending bill that would exempt certain health professionals at federally-funded facilities from being involved in performing abortions if they’re morally opposed.

Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican, said recently he anticipated that both Republicans and Democrats will have to give some in the negotiations, but that he’s a “very strong supporter” of the conscience clause language.

“[It] depends on how reasonable the Democrats want to be,” said Mr. Cole, who chairs the appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over federal health funding.

Democrats have managed to block such efforts in the past, when they controlled the White House and had more say in the process.

Democratic leaders also said they’ll resist attempts to boost spending on immigration enforcement, or to try to strip money from cities that refuse to cooperate with a federal immigration crackdown.

Mr. Trump said over the weekend that Congress should stop funding such “sanctuary cities,” amid separate court battles over an executive order from Mr. Trump zeroing out grant money for the jurisdictions.

“The funding bill should not give precious and massive taxpayer grants to cities aiding and abetting criminals,” Mr. Trump said at a rally in Pennsylvania.

The Trump administration recently sued the state of California, arguing its recently approved sanctuary city policies are unconstitutional.

Some immigrant rights groups, meanwhile, are pushing for new language in the spending bill to shield young illegal immigrants from the threat of deportation as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program winds down.

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