Politics & Government

The government-shutdown debate leads back to Texas

In this March 29, 2017, file photo, a youth looks at a new, taller fence being built along U.S.-Mexico border, replacing the shorter, gray metal fence in front of it, in the Anapra neighborhood of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, across the border from Sunland Park, New Mexico.
In this March 29, 2017, file photo, a youth looks at a new, taller fence being built along U.S.-Mexico border, replacing the shorter, gray metal fence in front of it, in the Anapra neighborhood of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, across the border from Sunland Park, New Mexico. AP

Congress is heading home for two weeks, and when they come back there won’t be much time to negotiate a deal to fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year.

At least two of the biggest issues that could derail a spending plan could have a big impact on Texas: President Donald Trump’s proposed massive border wall and an increase in defense spending.

If Congress can’t agree on a budget by April 28, the government will shut down on Trump’s 100th day in office, and federal services and public facilities in Texas — including Big Bend National Park and work for defense-related contractors in Fort Worth — could be suspended.

Both Republicans and Democrats are confident a shutdown will be avoided, but any proposed budget must get 60 votes in the Senate, meaning Republicans must compromise with some Democrats to strike a deal.

“My read on it is that members of Congress know what they can pass,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said during a news conference Thursday. “Maybe the White House doesn’t. And . . . that line of communication is where you might see some more difference of opinion than even between Democrats and Republicans in the Congress.”

Even though Trump wants his border wall and an increase in defense spending, he doesn’t have the final word on what goes in a budget proposal, Congress does.

Currently, the government is operating under a continuing resolution, a short-term plan that maintains current spending levels but makes it extremely hard to fund new projects. Congress could enact another continuing resolution to fund the government through September, but defense-minded members and the military are urging a permanent deal.

“The cycle of funding the government on a month-to-month basis needs to end and the only solution is if Republicans work with Democrats to create a bipartisan long-term funding plan that provides stability for federal agencies and the American people,” Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, said in an email.

Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, plays a large role in the defense spending process as chairwoman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and wants to see an increase in defense funding to improve troop readiness and equipment.

Granger declined to be interviewed for this story, but she said in an earlier interview that increasing defense spending was one of her biggest priorities in Congress.

“It’s not just preparing and fighting wars, it’s about keeping us safe all the time, rebuilding our military, but also making sure that we stay close to our allies,” Granger said.

But rebuilding the military won’t happen if Congress delays a permanent funding measure in lieu of a stopgap solution to avoid a shutdown.

“The lack of fiscal year 2017 appropriations resulting in a yearlong continuing resolution, and no supplemental increase in funding for the remainder of FY 17, would result in significant negative impacts to current and future readiness and a reversal of progress towards reducing an already high military risk,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing this week.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., went as far to say he would vote to shut down the government if Congress passes another continuing resolution instead of a full budget.

“If that’s the only option, I will not vote for a CR no matter what the consequences, because passing a CR destroys the ability of the military to defend this nation, and it puts the lives of the men and women in the military at risk,” he told CNN.

The other major sticking point for a budget proposal is the expansion of the border wall between the United States and Mexico, and Republicans have conceded that including border wall funding in a spending proposal may not make sense if they want to keep the government open.

Border wall concerns

Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said a budget proposal “comes together better” if border wall funding is not included.

None of the 38 Texans in Congress supported a border wall from sea to sea when asked after the election by the Texas Tribune, and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Wednesday that the Trump administration will not build a wall from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean but will expand walls and fences that are already built along the border.

It is also unlikely that Planned Parenthood will lose funding as part of a spending bill. Democrats have vowed not to support any proposal that includes cuts to Planned Parenthood and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said in March that he would likely not include the cuts in a bill that required a 60-vote threshold in the Senate.

“If House Republicans are foolish enough to include ‘poison pill’ measures like continuing their attacks against Planned Parenthood or including funding for President Trump’s border wall, they are risking a government shutdown under their own watch,” Veasey said.

The last federal government shutdown was in October 2013, when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and other Republicans refused to vote for a spending bill that did not repeal Obamacare. The shutdown lasted 16 days and led to the George W. Bush Presidential Library and IRS offices closing in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty

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