- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2019

The Senate’s top spending negotiator said Monday night that Republicans and Democrats have reached an agreement in principle on a new deal to avert a partial government shutdown.

Details were scarce, and the text of the agreement wasn’t expected until later in the week, but Sen. Richard Shelby said they had settled the sticking points.

If the deal holds — and if it can pass both chambers and win President Trump’s signature — it would avert a partial shutdown looming at the end of this week.

“We’ve had a good evening. We reached an agreement in principle between us,” said Mr. Shelby, Alabama Republican and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

He said the deal will encompass all seven of the overdue spending bills, signaling the government would have full funding through the end of September.

But the deal does not include disaster-relief money to assist victims of recent hurricanes and wildfires, suggesting another emergency spending bill may be needed later this year.

Optimism had been building Monday, a self-imposed deadline for negotiators, that a deal could be reached, despite a weekend that saw Democrats raise an 11th-hour demand to cut the government’s ability to detain and deport immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

House Democrats said they wanted to impose a 34,000-per-day cap on the number of people who could be detained, and an even lower cap of 16,500 on the number of those detainees who could come from illegal immigrants arrested in the interior of the U.S. The rest would be border arrests.

Republicans said that was a non-starter, and when Democrats insisted on that Sunday, the GOP negotiators walked out of talks.

Mr. Trump, who took most of the blame for December’s shutdown, said Monday that if the government did shut down again, it would be Democrats’ responsibility this time, thanks to the last-minute demand.

“That’s up to the Democrats,” the president said.

Mr. Trump also vowed at an evening rally in Texas that he would build his border wall no matter what was in the deal.

“We’re building the wall anyway,” the president said.

It was his demand for $5.7 billion in border wall money that had pushed the government into the 35-day partial shutdown that began just before Christmas.

The final deal sets a target of getting to 40,520 detention beds, with Democrats dropping their recent demand for the 16,500 cap on immigrants arrested in the interior.

ICE currently averages about 46,000 detainees a day, and the White House had asked for 52,000 beds. A source familiar with the deal said there is funding flexibility that would allow the government to respond to surges.

Monday’s agreement also includes $1.375 billion for physical barriers on the border — far less than the president’s goal, but more than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s ante of zero.

“Not a single one of us is going to get every single thing we want, but nobody does,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat. “But we’re going to get what is best for the United States.”

Mr. Shelby said the imminent threat of another shutdown helped bring both sides back to the negotiating table quickly.

“I think all of us realized we had a bigger obligation — to get back together,” Mr. Shelby said. “I didn’t know if it would happen.”

Mr. Shelby and Mr. Leahy, along with House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey and GOP Rep. Kay Granger, met multiple times at the Capitol on Monday to try to iron out an agreement.

“If the four of us couldn’t get it together, this Congress never could,” Mr. Leahy said. “We have gotten it together.”

Mr. Shelby said the four members think and hope the White House will support the deal.

Asked whether he had sign-off from congressional leadership, Mr. Shelby said: “Sen. [Mitch] McConnell told me to get it done.”

Just a day earlier, Mr. Shelby had put prospects of a deal at 50-50. But he said the specter of yet another government shutdown at the end of the week re-energized the stalled talks.

Mr. Trump’s buy-in is not guaranteed.

In December, senators had struck a short-term deal to keep the government open while all sides negotiated, and the White House had signaled Mr. Trump would sign it.

But after hearing complaints from conservatives, the president announced he would not sign it after all, precipitating the longest shutdown in history.

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