Senate GOP to meet with Trump White House on spending bills

By Burgess Everett
The meeting is to be held Tuesday.

Top Senate Republicans will meet with President Donald Trump's negotiating team to discuss whether the party can pass government funding bills amid stalled budget negotiations with congressional Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama and other Republican appropriators will meet with acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget Russ Vought on Tuesday afternoon, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Mnuchin has been Trump's point man on fiscal issues after the debacle that resulted in a 35-day partial government shutdown during the holidays. Mulvaney, a former House member, and Vought are seen as more reluctant to cut a spending deal with Democrats given their opposition to spending increases. Some conservatives want to allow blunt budget cuts to take place in the fall that will automatically occur absent action — though leaders in both parties prefer a budget deal to avoid spending cuts on both defense and domestic matters.

Talks among Republicans and Democrats are stalled over a disagreement on increasing domestic spending. So, Senate Republicans are trying to figure out whether they can begin moving spending bills absent a two-year spending agreement. House Democrats are moving this week to pass a package spending bill, though without the impediment of the Senate’s supermajority requirement.

Shelby is eager to work with Appropriations Committee ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to begin passing spending bills after reaching an agreement last year to ward off "poison pill" amendments that can derail the process. That could more difficult this year with an internal Democratic debate over how far to go to kill the Hyde Amendment, which restricts abortion spending.

Spending chiefs in both chambers collaborated last year to fund roughly 75 percent of the government by the Sept. 30 deadline, a marked improvement over previous years. But parts of the government still shut down after the midterm elections because of disputes over President Donald Trump’s border wall demands. This year, Congress is behind schedule in part because of the broader fiscal standoff but also because of increasing impeachment tensions between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the president.

Both parties are increasingly worried about a potential fiscal disaster this fall, when a budget deal expires. The government needs to be funded past Sept. 30, and the debt ceiling will need to be raised later in the fall, creating a potentially calamitous mix of must-pass legislation.