WASHINGTON — Congress returns Monday with just five days left to keep the government from shutting down, and President Trump is adding to the pressure by demanding money for a Southwest border wall and other controversial programs that threaten a bipartisan deal.
Lawmakers passed a stop-gap spending bill in December to fund federal agencies through midnight next Friday. Congressional leaders are now scrambling to reach a bipartisan compromise on new legislation to keep the money flowing through fiscal 2017, which ends on Sept. 30.
It's possible they may pass a short-term measure to keep the government funded for a few days or weeks past Friday's deadline to give themselves more time to negotiate.
"We’re making great progress on funding the government, avoiding a shutdown," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a recent interview with the USA TODAY Network, referring to top Senate and House leaders of both parties. "Our worry is that the president will come in and insist on certain things that couldn't get the support of everybody."
Among Trump's demands that could derail Democratic support for a deal: $1.4 billion to begin building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, $18 billion in cuts to domestic programs, stripping funds from Planned Parenthood and allowing states to stop federal grants from going to "sanctuary cities" that protect some undocumented immigrants from deportation.
However, Democrats may support at least some of the approximately $30 billion that Trump wants to add for defense programs and combat operations.
The Republican majority needs Democratic votes in both the House and Senate to pass the government funding bill. In the closely divided Senate, the GOP has a slim majority of 52 seats in a chamber where 60 votes are required to pass the legislation. In the House, Republican leaders will need help from Democrats because some conservatives will oppose any bill that increases spending.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the spending bill "obviously is one that cannot be done by one party alone."
Schumer said he and McConnell are working well together on the bill, prompting Schumer to tell Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney: "Let us alone and we can get this done."
However, Mulvaney has warned Congress that lawmakers must include Trump's priorities if they want the president to sign the bill.
"The president has to sign off on this stuff, so the president gets to have his say," Mulvaney said in a recent interview with WBT radio station in Charlotte, N.C.
The continuing feud between Trump and Democrats over Obamacare also is spilling into the negotiations.
Democrats are pushing to add a provision to the government funding bill to ensure that federal subsidies owed to health insurance companies under Obamacare are paid so that insurance premiums don't go up for low-income families. Trump has threatened to withhold the payments to force Democrats to bargain on a health care bill to replace the Affordable Care Act.
Leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations committees crafting the spending bill have been relatively tight-lipped about what the legislation will contain and exactly when it will be introduced. They also would not say whether they are considering another stop-gap bill to fund the government for a few extra days or weeks to give them more time to complete a spending package that lasts through September.
"Negotiations on policy items and funding levels continue," said Jennifer Hing, communications director for the House Appropriations Committee. "We expect to have a product prior to the deadline next week."
Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss.,"will continue to work with the administration and congressional leaders in both parties to resolve outstanding issues and enact funding legislation by April 28," said Stephen Worley, spokesman for the Senate panel.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said he is judging requests for funding by whether they will add votes for the bill and prevent a shutdown. If they don't, he doesn't want to see them included even if he personally supports them, Cole told reporters before Congress adjourned for a two-week recess for Passover and Easter.
"For most of this bill, there is agreement," Cole said. "If we start having people — whether it’s the administration or this or that group within our own (Republican) conference — that decide they have to have this or that … I don’t think whatever the potential gain is is worth the gamble."
One possible addition to the bill that could help increase bipartisan support, Cole said, is a proposal to extend health care benefits and pension programs for coal miners, who will lose their health benefits at the end of this month unless Congress acts. Miners are seeking a permanent fix for the programs rather than just another temporary extension.
That plan has bipartisan support from senators and House members who represent coal states such as Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
However, Trump's border wall "is a lot trickier," Cole said.
"The powers that be, both in leadership and at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue (in the White House), need to not give us demands that simply can't be met," he said.