Congress Tries to Avoid a Government Shutdown

WASHINGTON (AP) — Washington negotiators are closing in on a budget and debt deal that would stave off the chance of a government shutdown this fall and allow Congress to pass legislation to increase the government’s borrowing cap.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reads from a paper titled “Know Your Rights” regarding ICE agent raids, on Capitol Hill on July 11. (AP photo/Andrew Harnik)

The emerging two-year framework would satisfy demands for an outline to guide congressional work on more than $1.3 trillion in agency operating budgets. It would still need to be fleshed out in follow-up legislation, and puts off battles over political land mines like immigration and President Trump’s unfulfilled promises of a border wall.

Obstacles remain and right-wing forces inside the White House are resisting a quick deal and want more concessions from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who says a deal is needed this week to ensure it passes before the summer recess.

The chief advocates of the deal include Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and top Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Many House conservatives are likely to oppose it as spending too much on Democratic domestic initiatives and ignoring budget deficits estimated at $1 trillion. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, focused chiefly on the need to increase the debt limit, is the chief negotiator for the Trump administration.

Pelosi and Schumer spoke with Mnuchin on Wednesday, and the talks have gotten down to timing issues. Pelosi told reporters: “If we’re really going to do this by next Thursday before we leave we have to have some agreement this week.”

“I am genuinely optimistic,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., a key Pelosi ally who is keeping a close watch on the talks.

Also driving the negotiations is the threat of cuts averaging 10% to agency accounts, reversing recent gains for the Pentagon and hard-won increases in domestic programs favored by Democrats. Those cuts are the final leftovers of a failed 2011 budget and debt deal negotiated by former President Barack Obama and then-Speaker John Boehner that used the threat of the automatic cuts to try to prompt progress on the deficit. Instead, lawmakers have acted three times to stop the cuts.

The talks so far have been insulated from Washington’s ongoing maelstrom and the already raging presidential campaign. It is not a done deal yet. Both sides worry that Trump could reject it. But the forces aligned in the talks are powerful and all sides want to deal with the politically toxic debt limit without a high-wire act that could cause markets to shudder. Failure to increase the government’s $22 trillion debt cap would spark an unprecedented crisis in which the government couldn’t borrow enough cash to pay all of its bills.

The talks have been going for weeks, but took on new urgency as deficit estimates worsened, creating an unacceptable risk of default in early-to-mid September. At the same time, the Senate Appropriations Committee, stacked with loyalists to McConnell, is aching to start advancing its 12 annual spending bills. The House has passed most of its bills using significantly higher spending figures than what it’s likely to end up with under the emerging agreement. Each has been slapped with a Trump veto threat.

Among the loose ends, and they could be significant, is the issue of how much in accompanying spending cuts should be paired with the short-term spending increases. Past deals have had these so-called offsets, often relying on quick moneymakers like sales from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve or extending small cuts to Medicare providers, but only $60 billion or so is available now.

While Democrats sound optimistic, some Republican factions are dreading the deal, which melds a toxic mix of debt, spending and $1 trillion-plus budget deficits. Republicans warn that Trump won’t sign anything that doesn’t enjoy widespread party support, but the alternative is to run the government on autopilot, a prospect that alarms the Pentagon.

“When you have divided government you have to make compromises. Neither side gets 100% of what they want,” said Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga. “There’s enough in there it satisfied the needs of both parties trying to get this done. The alternative is so draconian.”

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