Donald Trump risks marking his 100th day in office on Saturday with a government shutdown, as lawmakers return from a spring recess anxious to reach a funding agreement to avert a crisis nobody wants.
The government is set to run out of funds on Friday, the day before Trump holds a rally in Pennsylvania to celebrate his milestone.
The president wants any spending bill to include money for construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border, a key campaign pledge, which Democrats have called a “non-starter” and even some Republicans oppose.
After threatening over the weekend to block funding for the Affordable Care Act unless Democrats help secure more money for the wall, Trump tweeted on Monday morning that: “The Wall is a very important tool in stopping drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth (and many others)! If … the wall is not built, which it will be, the drug situation will NEVER be fixed the way it should be!”
Trump’s proposed budget last month earmarked $1.5bn for the wall but others estimate that completing it could cost 10 times as much. Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, has said the White House had proposed a dollar-for-dollar funding deal for Obamacare and the wall.
The president’s plan to make Mexico pay for the wall – always disputed by Mexico itself – seems to have been delayed. “Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying, in some form, for the badly needed border wall,” Trump tweeted on Sunday.
Top Democrats said on Monday that Trump could avoid a shutdown next week if he backed off his demand that a budget plan should include funding for the wall.
“If the president stepped out of it we could get a budget done by Friday,” the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, said on a conference call with reporters.
The House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, agreed. She argued that the president did not have a “mandate” to fund the wall, after having repeatedly promised Mexico would pay for it.
“No, he did not promise he would take food out of the mouths of babies,” Pelosi said, adding that funding his “immoral, ineffective, unwise proposal of a wall” would mean cutting programs for seniors, education, environment and science.
Both Democratic leaders said budget negotiations with their Republican counterparts were progressing apace until the White House “intervened” and created an impasse over funding for the wall. Negotiators have worked for weeks on a budget proposal, but have not yet reached an agreement. However, there is confidence on Capitol Hill that a temporary agreement will be reached by the end of the week to keep the government open while negotiations continue.
Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said he was “pretty confident” that the White House would secure increased funding for border security and the wall.
“We expect a massive increase in military spending,” Priebus told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday. “We expect money for border security in this bill. And it ought to be. Because the president won overwhelmingly. And everyone understands the border wall was part of it.”
To avert a shutdown, Trump needs Democratic support; the Republicans do not have enough votes in the Senate to pass a funding agreement alone. The Democrats have signalled an openness to increased funding for border surveillance, which Trump could spin as a victory for ramping up border security ahead of building the wall.
Trump’s eagerness to show his commitment on the wall follows a series of stymied efforts, including a failed attempt repeal Obamacare and key initiatives such as the travel ban mired in litigation, the White House is resorting to other alternatives. Trump has issued a record number of executive orders since taking office and is reportedly planning on issuing more in the coming week. Although many of these executive orders are symbolic and have little concrete impact, they serve as a one statistic for the White House to point to in the search for achievements.
While Trump’s team has branded the 100 days landmark as an “artificial benchmark”, he has set the stage for a frenetic week which seems to indicate his determination to score some points before the milestone arrives.
Monday began with a call to the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, at 9.30am, followed by a video conference call to Nasa astronauts on the International Space Station, before a working lunch with ambassadors of countries on the UN security council.
A reception with conservative media and dinner with senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who have been two of his most consistent conservative critics, were to follow.
Asked if the White House’s plan to unveil new executive orders and outline a tax reform plan this week was simply for the benefit of the media, Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, said: “Yeah, we’re givers.”
The coming battle over the budget and keeping the government open presents a final opportunity for Trump to score a win before his 100th day, by trying to make funding the government conditional on congressional appropriations for his wall.
Although Trump had pledged throughout his campaign that Mexico would “pay for the wall”, the United States’ southern neighbor has proved less than forthcoming with a check. The result is that Trump has needed to seek congressional authorization for the necessary funds and hint at potentially vetoing a bill that would keep the government open if Congress does not act according to his wishes.
The last time Congress failed to keep the government open was in 2013 when Republicans forced a 16-day shutdown amid a bitter budget fight over Barack Obama’s healthcare law. That year, roughly 800,000 federal workers were furloughed. The National Park Service closed hundreds of parks and museums, including the Statue of Liberty in New York and Yosemite National Park in California.
Complicating budget negotiations, Trump announced his intention to unveil a “massive tax cut” proposal on Wednesday. Trump is also pushing lawmakers to act this week on a revised version of the healthcare overhaul bill that failed last month to secure enough support to pass the House.
South Carolina representative Mark Sanford, a member of the arch-conservative Freedom Caucus, which helped derail the healthcare bill in the House and is involved in the effort to reboot it, downplayed the expectation that a vote would happen this week.
“It’s an awfully tough dream,” Sanford told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday of Trump’s wish to hold a vote this week.
“You just simply begin to run out of days in this week, given the fact that we have this big funding issue coming up at the end of the week,” he added.
Republicans are still hammering out the details of their retooled healthcare plan and it is far from clear that the rumored changes, which would allow states to opt out of some of Obamacare’s most popular provisions, would earn enough support from moderates and conservatives to pass.