What to Know in Washington: Uncertain Outlook for Spending Bills

Trump administration cabinet officials continue their march to Capitol Hill this week to talk fiscal 2020 budget priorities, but with today marking the official midpoint of the fiscal year, some lawmakers are already warning they may need a stopgap measure to avoid a shutdown in October.

Lawmakers’ goal of an early agreement to raise spending caps under the Budget Control Act — which would provide a common set of top-line spending figures for appropriators in both chambers — now seems unlikely. That means appropriators in the House and Senate will likely mark up bills that add up to different figures. As the fiscal year funding deadline approaches at the end of September, negotiators will have to reconcile broad differences over defense and domestic spending levels, as well as the myriad smaller differences within all 12 bills.

It’s not too early to start worrying about relying on a continuing resolution to keep the government running past the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said.

“Unless something happens, where we are, we could be headed down the road to a CR,” Shelby told reporters last week. “I hope not. It’s early. It’s going to be a challenging year.”

Appropriators became more pessimistic about the outlook after President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget request, which proposed leaving the budget caps in place and using a cap-exempt war fund to exceed the limits for military spending. While presidents’ budget proposals are often dismissed by appropriators, this one was a signal that the White House was taking a hard stance on budget cap negotiations. Leaving the cap in place would lead to a 9 percent cut to domestic discretionary spending in fiscal 2020 compared to fiscal 2019. Defense, meanwhile, would see nearly a 5 percent increase.

Before Trump’s budget proposal was released in mid-March, lawmakers had hoped for an early caps deal, which would pave the way for progress in spending negotiations in both chambers. Now, it appears top negotiators are content to wait for a last-minute deal, said Rep. Tom Cole(R-Okla.), ranking member of the House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee. Cole said to be prepared for “a very tough year” on spending negotiations. Jack Fitzpatrick checks in on the FY20 outlook.

Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Also Happening on the Hill

Health Care Priorities: Trump’s acting chief of staff said the Trump administration plans to send a short summary of its health care “principles” to Congress as the basis for potential legislation to replace Obamacare, just as it did for the Republicans’ tax-cut bill in 2017. “We are doing the same thing on this that we did with taxes,” Mick Mulvaney said on CNN’s “State of the Union” yesterday. “We sent principles to the Hill, I think it was one or two pages, and from that, following the proper legislative process, we go t a tremendous tax bill.”

Trump’s surprise escalation of a legal attack on the Affordable Care Act in the past week dropped a political grenade in the laps of congressional Republicans, who would be forced to devise a viable alternative if the courts invalidate the 2010 health-care law. Read more on the state of the brewing health fight from Laura Davison and Hailey Waller.

Green New Deal: Top House Democrats are confident they’ll close ranks and suffer few defections as Republicans try to force backers of the Green New Deal to defend the ambitious climate platform in an up-or-down floor vote. House Republicans are trying to deploy one of the few tools the minority party has to bring measures directly to the floor: a discharge petition requiring 218 signatures to have legislation or — as in this case — a resolution bypass the committee process.

But Democrats say the GOP petition is a cynical exercise, given how few Republicans have signed onto any significant action to address climate action. Those Democrats say the Green New Deal is an overarching statement of principles, and that an issue as serious as climate change deserves more legislative deliberation. Read more from Dean Scott.

Census Deadline: House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) told Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross he has until today to tell the panel whether his department will agree to share previously requested documents without redaction related to a citizenship question in the 2020 Census. If Ross doesn’t agree to provide the documents, the panel “will consider compulsory process to obtain the documents” at its business meeting on April 2, Cummings said in a letter on Friday.

Earlier this month, Ross defended his decision to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census as Democrats in Congress criticized the move as political effort aimed at discouraging the participation of immigrants and non-citizens. The House committee plans a meeting tomorrow where it could consider a resolution from Cummings that would authorize issuing subpoenas to Ross and Attorney General William Barr for records and to Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Gore to testify in regard to the committee’s probe of the 2020 Census citizenship question. Read more from Ben Livesey.

Barr Hints at Wider Release of Mueller Report: Attorney General William Barr plans to send Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report to Congress by mid-April — possibly including material that may be damaging to Trump — and setting the stage for a new battle over its findings. In a letter to lawmakers on Friday, Barr said that sensitive material such as grand jury evidence will be stripped out of the version he sends to Congress. But he suggested that he wouldn’t remove information just because it’s critical of Trump or senior figures in his 2 016 campaign. “Everyone will soon be able to read it on their own,” he said of the report.

That’s still not enough to meet demands from Democrats in Congress, who say they will fight for release of Mueller’s entire report and all the evidence behind it. “As I informed the attorney general earlier this week, Congress requires the full and complete Mueller report, without redaction, as well as access to the underlying evidence, by April 2,” House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “That deadline still stands.” Read more from Chris Strohm and Billy House.

Meanwhile, Trump this weekend returned to the results of Mueller’s report, tweeting that “Everybody is asking how the phony and fraudulent investigation of the No Collusion, No Obstruction Trump Campaign began. We need to know for future generations to understand. This Hoax should never be allowed to happen to another President or Administration again!

Politics & Elections

Biden Responds to Kissing Incident: Joe Biden responded to a former Nevada lawmaker who’s gone public about a incident in which she says the then-vice president acted inappropriately toward her, as a new poll showed the 76-year-old is the most palatable candidate for Democratic voters in 2020.

Lucy Flores, a former Nevada assembly member, said Biden smelled her hair and delivered “a slow kiss” to the top of her head at a 2014 campaign event when she was running for state lieutenant governor. “I just can’t imagine that there was never a situation where someone said to him … you probably should stop doing that, you should probably stop touching women in that way,” Flores said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

In a statement released yesterday, Biden said he had “offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort” during his years in public life. “Not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately,” he said in the statement. “If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention.” Read more from Ros Krasny and Laura Davison.

Buttigieg Banks $7M in 1Q: Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend, Indiana mayor whose stock and poll numbers have risen in the last weeks following a breakout performance in a CNN town hall, will report more than $7 million raised in the first quarter for his presidential bid. Buttigieg announced the preliminary total on Twitter, where he said his campaign was “out-performing expectations at every turn”.

Presidential candidates will release their first quarter fundraising totals for the period between January 1 and March 31 no later than April 15. For most of them, this will be the first key test of their ability to raise money at a presidential campaign level, Derek Wallbank reports.

Democrats Make Play for Trump’s Rural Base: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) issued a call to arms while Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) made an appeal to unity as Democratic presidential candidates offered different messages they hope will chip away at Trump’s support across the Farm Belt. Democrats are eager to make inroads in rural America, Trump’s strongest territory, as economic strains already in place are exacerbated by the president’s trade policies. These issues are top of mind for residents who’ll vote in February’s Iowa caucuses — the first contest to whittle down the many Democrats lining up to win their party’s nomination. Read more from Mike Dorning.

Beto Rebukes Trump on Immigration: Texan Beto O’Rourke officially launched his 2020 presidential campaign on Saturday in El Paso, using his home town on the Rio Grande River as a backdrop to declare he’s the best candidate to take on Trump at a “moment of truth” for U.S. democracy. The former three-term Democratic congressman and a darling of left-leaning voters ticked off his campaign priorities — a package of ideas his campaign called a “unifying vision for bridging divides.”

“This is our moment of truth. And we cannot be found wanting,” O’Rourke said in an unscripted speech heavy on immigration that also touched on universal health care, criminal justice reform, veterans affairs, climate change, teacher pay, voting rights, and economic inequality. Read more from Billy House.

Also this weekend, Trump repeated his threat to close the southern border, saying that U.S. “detention areas are maxed out & we will take no more illegals” at a time the State Department has moved to cut aid to Central America at Trump’s direction. On Twitter Saturday, the president continued to demand that Mexico “immediately” stop allowing illegal migration into the U.S., which his Homeland Security secretary has said portends a “meltdown” at her agency. Mexico must use its own “strong immigration laws” to stop the flow of thousands of people trying to reach the U.S., Trump said. Read more from Kim Chipman and Ros Krasny.

Movers & Shakeups

Nominations: Trump on Friday announced his intent to nominate Scott Soles to be the chief financial officer of the Department of Agriculture. Soles is currently a senior special financial projects analyst who has previously served in roles at global Fortune 500 companies, the White House said in a statement.

Moore Says He’s More Pro-Trade, Immigration Than Trump: Trump’s pick to serve on the Federal Reserve Board said he’d be an independent voice in that role and that he doesn’t always agree with the president, particularly on trade and immigration. “I think 75 percent of the time I agree with Donald Trump, I give him really high marks for his handling of the economy,” Stephen Moore said in a CNN interview on Saturday. “There are many times I disagree with him. I’m pro-trade, I’m more pro free-trade than he is, I’m probably a little bit more pro-immigration than he is, so I will be an independent mind for growth and the American worker,” he said. Read more from Ryan Beene.

White House Policy: Eric Ueland, Jennie Lichter, and Maria Bonner have been hired to join the White House’s policy shop, Axios reports, where they’ll work on advancing Trump’s policy agenda in Congress and deregulation. Ueland is currently director of the State Department’s Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources. He has served as staff director of the Senate Budget Committee and chief of staff to then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

What Else to Know Today

NATO Chief Visits: These aren’t happy days for NATO, as the alliance’s 70th anniversary brings leaders together for subdued commemoration this week.

Trump has repeatedly questioned the utility of the alliance to his “American First” foreign policy and regularly complains that the U.S. is being short-changed because few other members meet the goal of spending at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. He may renew those complaints tomorrow, when NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is scheduled to meet with the president at the White House. So far Stoltenberg, a former prime minister of Norway, has succeeded in finessing Trump’s criticism by showering him with praise and credit. Nick Wadhams previews Stoltenberg’s visit.

China Announces Trade Concessions: The Chinese government said it will extend a suspension of retaliatory tariffs on U.S. autos and include the opioid fentanyl in a list of controlled substances, two steps that could generate a positive atmosphere for trade negotiations due to resume this week. Beijing temporarily scrapped the 25 percent tariff imposed on vehicles as a tit-for-tat measure on Jan. 1, after the White House delayed a rise in tariffs on $200 billion of products that had been due that day. The Ministry of Finance announced an extension of the suspension yesterday, without giving a specific end date. Vice Premier Liu He, China’s trade envoy, left for the U.S. today, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Read more.

Mideast Peace Plan May Be Dead: Trump was already struggling to rally Arab support for a long-awaited Middle East peace plan he’s dubbed the “deal of the century.” His latest move in support of Israel may make that plan dead on arrival.

By recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the long-disputed Golan Heights, seized from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War, Trump shoved Arab allies he’s counting on to back his peace initiative into a corner. The Golan decision came after he had already angered much of the Arab world by moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and cutting off funding for a United Nations agency helping Palestinian refugees. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are unlikely to throw their weight behind the proposal being drawn up by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and adviser, and White House Middle East peace negotiator Jason Greenblatt, according to interviews with key diplomats and analysts in Washington. Read more from Glen Carey.

North Korea Nukes: Trump gave North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a list of demands that included a call for handing over nuclear weapons and bomb fuel to the U.S. in their talks in Hanoi last month, Reuters reported, citing the document. Trump handed Kim the piece of paper stating the U.S. position at their meeting in Hanoi’s Metropole Hotel on Feb. 28, according to the news agency. This was the first time that Trump had explicitly defined directly to Kim what he meant by denuclearization, Reuters reported, citing an unidentified person familiar with the discussions. The document may help explain why the summit collapsed without a complete account, Reuters said. Read more from Kyungji Cho.

Facebook’s Call for Regulations: Mark Zuckerberg proposed over the weekend for government regulation of four broad areas: harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability. Zuckerberg’s call for stepped up government oversight of the internet is likely to inflame the debate in Washington over how to rein in Facebook and other social media companies, including whether the U.S. should adopt the European standard as it drafts a national privacy law. It could also deepen rifts within tech industry ranks, especially if efforts arise to narrow the exemption from responsibility for content posted by users on their platforms that companies like Google and Facebook enjoy. Read more from Ben Brody.

Arctic Oil Drilling Edict Blocked by Judge: Trump’s bid to restore oil and gas leasing in U.S. waters was blocked by a federal judge in Alaska, delivering a win to environmentalists who argued that offshore drilling isn’t worth the risk. U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason ruled late Friday that Trump didn’t have authority to resume selling drilling rights in more than 125 million acres of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans that former President Barack Obama had sought to protect. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Kartikay Mehrotra.

Keystone Pipeline Permit: Trump issued a new permit for TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline Friday, circumventing a court ruling that blocked a previous authorization by his State Department. The move aims to undercut legal challenges to the $8 billion project, including a November ruling by a Montana-based district judge that faulted the State Department’s previous environmental analysis, according to a person familiar with the matter. It could pave the way for beginning some preliminary work, according to Clearview Energy Partners. Read more from Robert Tuttle and Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com

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