House Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday that President Donald Trump has told him he will sign a spending bill that averts a government shutdown five weeks ahead of the midterm elections – but does not increase funding for the border wall.
The House is prepared to pass the legislation later Wednesday and send it to Trump’s desk.
“I’m confident he will sign it. … This funds our military, this funds opioids, this does a lot of the things that we all want to accomplish together and we’ve had very good conversations with the president,” Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters at a press conference.
Asked if the president had told him he would sign the bill, Ryan replied “Yes.”
Current government funding legislation expires at the end of Sunday, setting up the government for a partial shutdown absent action from Congress and Trump.
The bill on the House floor Wednesday contains big spending increases for the Pentagon and the Health and Human Services department for 2019. But it does not contain the funding increase Trump wants for his wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, instead postponing that fight until after the midterm elections.
Trump called the legislation “ridiculous” in a tweet last week, and demanded to know where his wall money was. Trump repeatedly promised during his campaign that the wall would be paid for by Mexico.
White House spokespeople did not respond to a request for comment on Ryan’s remarks.
The legislation would keep the government running through Dec. 7. It has already passed the Senate and is expected to pass the House with bipartisan support, despite complaints from some conservatives who object to high domestic spending levels and the absence of conservative policy priorities such as a provision blocking funding for Planned Parenthood.
Conservatives also questioned whether they will be in any better position to get Trump’s wall money after the midterm elections than they are now. It’s unclear that there is any strategy for getting additional wall money after the elections; Senate Democrats would have to go along with any such plan.
“I don’t think it’s a plan that works. I don’t see anywhere our leverage is better to get wall funding on Dec. 7 than it is on Oct. 7,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who talks frequently with Trump. “So at some point you have to maintain and keep our campaign promises. And at this point I fail to see the merits of this strategy.”
Meadows said he planned to vote “no” on the spending bill Wednesday, but said he had not spoken with Trump about it.
“At this particular point obviously I am voting no, and I think he’s going to see what the will of the American people is and make a decision based on that,” Meadows said.
Although congressional GOP leaders all along have asserted they expect Trump to sign their legislation and avert a shutdown, Ryan’s statement Wednesday was the first public indication that Trump had actually said he would do so.
There has been some uncertainty about what the president would do, both because of the absence of increased wall funding in the legislation, and because Trump in March threatened at the last minute to veto an enormous government-wide spending bill Congress had sent him for the 2018 fiscal year.
The president ultimately signed the bill, but did so reluctantly amidst a conservative backlash over big domestic spending increases Democrats had won in exchange for big Pentagon spending increases sought by Republicans.
Wednesday’s legislation wraps up spending bills for the Pentagon and the Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services Departments, all told accounting for more than 60 percent of all discretionary spending. Discretionary spending is the portion of the federal budget that Congress doles out annually – as opposed to what are called “mandatory” spending programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, that operate without annual appropriations from Congress.
The full-year Pentagon and HHS spending bills for 2019 are paired with short-term legislation keeping the entire government running through Dec. 7.
The short-term bill extends current funding levels for agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, whose 2019 budgets have not been completed by Congress. When lawmakers return to the Capitol after the midterm elections they will work to finish up those other bills.
On the Homeland Security bill, the major sticking point will be reconciling the $1.6 billion provided for Trump’s border wall in the Senate version of the bill, with the $5 billion agreed to by House Republicans. Trump wants the higher number.
The Pentagon budget for 2019 would be $606.5 billion under the legislation being considered Wednesday — a $17 billion increase over 2018.
Funding for the Labor, Education and Health and Human Services departments would total $178 billion, a $1 billion increase from 2018 and almost $11 billion more than Trump requested in his budget proposal for 2019.
GOP leaders made the decision to pair Pentagon spending popular with Republicans with health and education spending popular with Democrats, and attach it all to a short-term spending bill keeping the government open. The result is that if Trump vetos the short-term spending bill he also vetos a big increase in defense spending sought by his generals.
Even though Congress is once again right up against a shutdown deadline without completing work on all 12 annual must-pass spending bills, progress on appropriations this year has been a marked improvement over years past. If passed and signed by Trump, the defense spending bill will mark the first time in a decade the Pentagon has been funded on time.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Erica Werner