The bipartisan, bicameral committee tasked with finding a budget compromise to avert another government shutdown on February 15 met for the first time Wednesday, but the expectations for reaching a comprehensive agreement ahead of the deadline were low and heading lower as the process kicked off.
How low? Writing on the eve of the negotiations, Politico’s Rachel Bade and Burgess Everett said that “the prospect of a big deal on border security and immigration is essentially dead.”
A narrow deal: There are widespread doubts that negotiators could put together an agreement involving the fraught issues of government funding, border security and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in just two weeks, so any deal that emerges is expected to focus only on the border and funding the government.
Money for the border wall: Democrats don’t appear to be interested in providing any funding for the wall, and Republicans are expected to ask for the full $5.7 billion President Trump has demanded. The negotiations will likely turn on this fairly straightforward dispute, with some hope that a semantic sleight of hand – i.e., an agreement to fund some “border fencing” rather than a wall – can provide the basis for a deal, one that will allow Trump to declare victory and move on. But no one expects Democrats to give Trump the full amount he wants. “The fading prospects of the negotiation mean Trump is likely to receive only a fraction of the $5.7 billion he’s been seeking for his southern barrier in any deal, if one can be put together at all by Feb. 15,” Bade and Everett said.
Comments by House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) on Wednesday suggested that there is some room for maneuver. Lowey said that Democrats are willing “to expand on the $1.6 billion in border security programs that House Democrats have already passed.” At the same time, Lowey warned that “smart border security is not overly reliant on physical barriers.”
The Trump wildcard: In the hours before the negotiations began, President Trump warned the committee that he won’t accept any deal that fails to include money for a border wall of some sort. “If the committee of Republicans and Democrats now meeting on Border Security is not discussing or contemplating a Wall or Physical Barrier, they are Wasting their time!” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning.
Trump has signaled that he is willing to declare a national emergency if negotiators can’t make an acceptable deal. “We’ll work with the Democrats and negotiate, and if we can’t do that, then we’ll do a — obviously we’ll do the emergency because that’s what it is. It’s a national emergency,” Trump said Friday as he announced the three-week deal that temporarily ended the shutdown. In an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News on Tuesday, Eric Trump, the president’s son and adviser, said that he’s in favor of taking that step. “I want him to declare an emergency," he said. "Oh, I think he will," Hannity replied.
Voters have other plans: Although another partial government shutdown or a newly declared national emergency remain distinct possibilities at the end of the negotiation process, most Americans say they’d rather see neither. According to a Morning Consult poll released Wednesday, 53 percent of voters said Trump should neither shut down the government nor declare a national emergency if he doesn’t get the money he has demanded for the wall. About 24 percent of poll respondents said that Trump should declare a national emergency if he doesn’t get the funds, while 9 percent said that Trump should shut down the government.