High up on the list of extremely partisan issues in Congress are any affairs that have to do with immigration, and the wall proposed on the U.S.’s southern border by President Trump is no exception. For more than a year now, Trump has been talking about the wall and usually adding that Mexico will (eventually) pay for it.
But that’s after taxpayers foot the bill in the first place, and right now, Democrats in the Senate are adamant that funding for the wall not be included in an appropriations bill that needs to be passed by late April to keep the government running.
“We are concerned with reports that there may be an effort to include funding for a very expensive new wall along the southern border with Mexico and a ‘deportation force’… We believe it would be inappropriate to insist on the inclusion of such funding in a must-pass appropriations bill that is needed for the Republican majority in control of the Congress to avert a government shutdown so early in President Trump’s administration,” read a letter from Senate Democratic leaders, including ranking Appropriations Committee member Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
The letter was sent to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, but it might as well have been sent to the president himself.
The Democrats say there is not yet any plan for construction of the wall, nor have there been any discussions about how Mexico would pay for it. Even some GOP lawmakers from a number of border states are said to be “on the fence” regarding Trump’s border wall.
Currently, the government is fully funded until April 28, by which time a new appropriations bill must be passed. There are spending caps for the federal budget, and Democrats say that any non-emergency spending needs to be split equally between defense and non-defense expenditures.
Trump wants to boost defense programs by $54 billion while cutting non-defense spending by the same amount. It’s possible that Republicans could try to get around the spending caps via continuing resolutions, but senators of both parties — Democrats in particular — are wary of this. Democrats also don’t want spending for policies they don’t support put in riders to appropriations bills.
The previously cited letter referred to these concerns, saying, “[Republicans] should not include poison pill riders such as those that roll back protections for our veterans, environment, consumers and workers and prohibit funds for critical healthcare services for women through Planned Parenthood. We strongly oppose the inclusion of such riders in any of the must-pass appropriations bills that fund the government.”
If Republicans insist upon such inclusion, Democrats say they will not vote for the appropriations, and the government would be shut down. Democrats claim that Republicans would be the party blamed in this case. “They will be shutting down the government and delivering a severe blow to our economy. Rather than pursuing this partisan path, we hope both sides can work together to ensure the government remains funded going forward,” the letter cynically states.
Although Republicans have enough votes in the Senate to pass the federal budget, which outlines government spending, they need 60 votes to clear appropriations bills, which are what actually funds the government. To get to 60 votes, it would be necessary to pressure at least eight Democrats to join the Republicans.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer has been leading the charge against the president on issues of spending along with Democratic Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Patty Murray of Washington.
The president has submitted his budget to Congress, but it’s not yet known if it includes cuts to agencies such as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Coast Guard (USCG) to help pay for the wall, as the Washington Post speculated earlier this month.
Making matters worse for the possibility of debate on this issue is the fact that Congress will be out of session for two full weeks prior to the spending deadline; this is in addition to a break March 16-17. In fact, between March and the beginning of August, Congress is out of session for one out of every five weekdays.
For the Democrats, this only helps their party’s obstructionist strategy as there likely won’t be enough time for Republicans to push through every GOP priority. Senate Majority Leader McConnell has the power to cancel these holidays, and if the Democrats continue to insist on playing hardball with matters of spending, it may be time to pull that trigger sooner, rather than later.
~ Liberty Planet