Congressional negotiators trying to reach a compromise on a spending bill to avert another government shutdown are expressing new hope.
Top lawmakers from both parties have been trying to craft an appropriations bill to fund the government that enough Democrats will support and that President Trump will sign. The stumbling block is Trump's insistence that the bill contain money for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and Democrats’ refusal to grant it.
A similar stand-off in late December resulted in the longest government shutdown in history, which ended after Trump agreed to a three-week authorization bill without border wall funding. As late as Monday, it appeared the two sides were still locked in a stalemate after talks broke down over the weekend.
Shutdown still on the table
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney went on Fox News Sunday to deliver a message to the negotiators, saying his boss was not ruling out allowing another government shutdown if Congress didn’t approve funding for a barrier to slow illegal immigration across America’s southern border.
“The president has to sign a piece of legislation in order to keep the government open,” Mulvaney told the network. “He cannot sign everything they put in front of him. There will be some things that simply we couldn’t agree to.”
Mulvaney said no one wants to disrupt government operations again and force federal workers to go without pay, but he said the shutdown is “technically” still an option.
“We do not want it to come to that, but that option is still open to the president and will remain so,” he said.
Late Monday night, four Congressional negotiators -- two Republicans and two Democrats -- ended their discussion by saying they had reached “an agreement in principle” on legislation that they believed could pass Congress and would be acceptable to the White House. They declined to provide details of the agreement.
Clock is ticking
The White House has not commented on the deal, but that could come at any time. Meanwhile, all parties involved in the negotiations are racing against a ticking clock. Funding for about a quarter of the U.S. government runs out Friday. Unless the president signs a new appropriations bill, those agencies will have to close.
The last government shutdown was costly to both Republicans and Democrats, as angry federal workers went through two pay cycles without receiving paychecks. It also caused economic losses by airlines, which saw dips in revenue because of the loss of normal travel by federal employees and contractors.