Border wall funding could lead to government shutdown as budget battle heats up

Andrew Bahl
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan takes questions about the Senate health care bill during his weekly press conference on Capitol Hill on July 13, 2017. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

WASHINGTON — If House Republicans vote to advance a $788 billion spending bill this week, Congress could find itself in a budget quagmire due to a provision that allocates funds for President Trump’s controversial border wall.

The funding is part of a negotiations strategy as House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., courts more conservative lawmakers, who have threatened to oppose the bill if money for the wall isn’t included.

Democrats have labeled the wall funding a poison pill that will sink their support. And Democrats have leverage, as Republican leaders in the Senate need minority support to advance the spending measures.

But if House conservatives rally behind the wall — a core part of Trump’s campaign platform, though he vowed that Mexico would pay for “100 percent” of it — they could also thwart the spending measures. Four spending measures have been rolled together into a so-called minibus, and congressional leaders are aiming to pass 12 appropriations bills by October in order to avert a government shutdown.

If lawmakers are at an impasse, party leaders may opt for continuing resolutions to keep the government funded. Such measures simply continue previous funding levels for a set period of time — and likely would not include the wall funding.

“Without a doubt there [are] enough conservative members who will not support any funding mechanism that does not include border wall funding … conservatives are definitely going to support the president in demanding that there be funding for the border wall,” Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told Breitbart earlier this month.

Meadows, the chair of the influential conservative Freedom Caucus, walked that statement back, saying he thought that the border wall funding would happen without a government shutdown.

“The odds of a government shutdown are very minimal when it comes to [the wall],” Meadows said Monday.

Democrats in the House, meanwhile, have blasted the wall funding ahead of Wednesday’s vote on the minibus package. Ryan and House Republican leadership used a procedural move to attach the wall funding to the package, even though it doesn’t include funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which would be charged with building the barrier.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., has been leading the charge against the wall provision. He says Democrats would have supported the bill without the wall funding but decried the barrier along the U.S-Mexico border as a waste of taxpayer dollars.

“Paul Ryan and House Republicans are using taxpayer money to fund a shallow idea of border security,” Gallego told reporters Tuesday.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters that his caucus would be united in opposing the border wall funding.

“I believe all members of the Democratic caucus believe this is bad policy and will vote against it,” Hoyer said.

In the Senate, the wall funding has an even murkier fate. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said that his caucus will not help Republicans get to the 60-vote threshold to bypass a filibuster.

“To my Republican friends in the Senate, I’d say persuade your colleagues in the House to abandon this dangerous, irresponsible path they’ve put us on which can only lead to a government shutdown,” Schumer said earlier this month.

But Trump has encouraged Republican lawmakers to go to the mat for the funding, which would only cover roughly 28 miles of the wall that became a hallmark of his campaign. In May, he tweeted that the country needed a “good shutdown” to pass the Republican agenda.

But Trump backed down from a similar showdown in April, after previously demanding that a crucial spending bill also include a down payment on the barrier. Trump told conservative reporters at the time that the White House would be willing to revisit the issue later in the summer.

It is unclear if Trump would be willing to veto a spending measure that would come to his desk without the wall funding in it, even if it meant a government shutdown.

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