A Christmas tree stands in front of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg)  

Senate Nears Vote on Averting Shutdown as Trump Fumes About Wall

(Bloomberg) -- The Senate will vote as soon as Wednesday on a bipartisan spending bill to avert a government shutdown, even as President Donald Trump vowed that he’d get his border wall built -- eventually.

The Senate GOP introduced a stopgap spending bill to keep agencies open through Feb. 8, and Democrats said they’re ready to pass it and put off the fight over Trump’s demand for $5 billion for the wall. The House could take up the measure as early as Thursday and lawmakers from both parties said they expect it to pass.

The Senate vote could be delayed amid jockeying to attach lawmakers’ pet legislation to the stopgap measure, including expiring wildlife habitat funding. Without the stopgap measure, current funding for nine government departments would run out after Friday.

The White House has retreated from an immediate confrontation over the wall money. The president said last week he would be “proud” to shut the government if it would force Democrats to provide the money he’s seeking. Now the Trump administration is raising the possibility of redirecting existing funding to the wall.

“One way or the other, we will win on the Wall!” Trump said in a Wednesday morning Tweet, in which he also accused Democrats of fighting Republicans “like cats and dogs when it comes to spending on Boarder Security (including a Wall) and the Military.”

GOP lawmakers said they expect Trump to sign a temporary spending bill. White House senior aide Kellyanne Conway told reporters Wednesday that Trump could be open to the stopgap measure under discussion in the Senate.

Senate Nears Vote on Averting Shutdown as Trump Fumes About Wall

“He’ll take a look at it certainly,” Conway said. Trump is still "working the phones" with lawmakers to see what kind of a deal can be reached, she said.

But the battle over the wall funding may become more difficult early next year with Democrats in control of the House. The delay may also combine the spending-bill fight with tough talks over broad spending caps for defense and non-defense programs. The federal debt limit will also come back into effect March 1, although the Treasury can use financial maneuvers to push that deadline to the second half of 2019.

Senate Nears Vote on Averting Shutdown as Trump Fumes About Wall

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, speaking on the Senate floor, accused Democrats of acting out of "political spite" and being inflexible over border wall spending even as the White House was signaling some willingness to compromise.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and second-ranking House Democrat Steny Hoyer said Democrats in both chambers support spending through Feb. 8.

“It is good news that the president has retreated from his demand that Congress pay for the wall,” said Schumer of New York. Hoyer of Maryland said Republicans aren’t any more likely to get an agreement from Democrats for the wall funding in February.

The short-term spending bill would also temporarily extend several programs otherwise scheduled to expire, including the national flood insurance program and EB-5 investor visas.

Senate Nears Vote on Averting Shutdown as Trump Fumes About Wall

Expressing opposition to the plan was North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, who said on Twitter that by passing the stopgap bill, "Congress will once again have punted when we should’ve been taking a stand. The time to fight is now." When Democrats take the majority in January, the Freedom Caucus will become a faction of the minority party and will lose its power to block action in the House.

Will Hurd, the Texas Republican who has the longest stretch of Mexican border in his House district, said the key to border security lies in technology, not in a physical barrier that would be expensive and ultimately ineffective. He said it would cost less than $1 billion for a tower system using advanced computer systems to monitor and intercept the illegal movement of goods and people across the Mexican border.

“We have to start measuring victory not by miles of wall,” but rather by operational control of the border, Hurd said.

‘We Worked Hard’

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama said Tuesday night he began work on the stopgap bill after concluding that a long-term resolution probably wouldn’t be found before a shutdown would begin on Friday night.

Shelby and committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, told reporters Wednesday the opportunity for a compromise appeared lost for now.

“We worked hard on it. I would have liked to have concluded it tomorrow night,” Shelby said. Leahy said he hopes both sides will embrace a Senate comprise of $1.6 billion for border fencing the committee reached earlier this year.

“I think we ended up with the best compromise, Dick and I, and I think a lot of people in retrospect will say we should have accepted that,” Leahy said.

Nine of 15 government departments would shut down after Friday if Congress doesn’t provide new funds. A partial shutdown would hit agencies including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the departments of Homeland Security, Treasury, Justice and Interior. More than 420,000 federal employees would work without pay and more than 380,000 workers would be sent home.

The other six departments -- including the Defense Department and representing about three-quarters of discretionary spending -- are funded through next Sept. 30, under legislation passed and signed by Trump earlier this year.

Senate Nears Vote on Averting Shutdown as Trump Fumes About Wall

Democratic leaders this month offered Trump $1.3 billion for border fencing after earlier this year backing $1.6 billion. McConnell on Tuesday proposed to Schumer a plan that would provide $1.6 billion for border security in addition to $1 billion for Trump’s immigration priorities. The immigration funding couldn’t be used for a wall, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Schumer on Tuesday rejected that proposal, which he called “a slush fund” for the president’s immigration priorities. “Let me be clear: the Republican offer would not clear either chamber,” he said.

Senate Nears Vote on Averting Shutdown as Trump Fumes About Wall

Sanders said the administration was looking into whether funds from various agencies could be used to fund a wall, though it was unclear whether the administration had authority to do it. She also repeated Trump’s unexplained assertion that additional revenue resulting from the revamped trade deal with Mexico and Canada would provide more than enough revenue to pay for the wall.

Trump has suggested he might turn to the military to build a wall on the southern U.S. border. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said Tuesday it was unclear what authority could be used to shift money to border security from other government accounts.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California objected to the proposed wall spending. “The wall isn’t about money,” she said. “The wall is about morality. It’s the wrong thing to do. It doesn’t work. It’s not effective.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.