Democrats: Border wall could block budget, force government shutdown

President Donald Trump’s push for border wall funding as part of a budget deal was criticized by Democratic leaders Monday, who oppose the wall and say insisting on it now could derail budget talks needed to avert a government shutdown. (Photo by J.N.Stuart/Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON – Democratic leaders said Monday that President Donald Trump’s insistence on the border wall in the budget has “thrown a monkey wrench” in negotiations to reach a deal by Friday that would head off a government shutdown.

The current budget expires at midnight Friday and unless Congress acts to replace or extend the budget, nonessential government services would stop at 12:01 a.m. Saturday – Trump’s 100th day in office.

Democrats said Monday that negotiations with their Republican counterparts were going well until Trump tweets this weekend accused Democrats of trying to block a wall that “will stop drugs and very bad … gang members” from coming into the country.

“If the president stepped out of it we could get a budget done by Friday,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on a conference call with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that the president’s budget priorities include money for the military, border security and the wall, and that talk of a government shutdown is premature.

“We feel very confident the government is not going to shut down,” Spicer said Monday. “The work that (White House Budget Director Mick) Mulvaney and others have made is very positive and we’re very confident that it won’t happen.

“We’re very confident we will come to an agreement by the end of Friday,” Spicer said.

Arizona lawmakers did not respond to requests for comment on the budget situation, but one analyst agreed with Spicer that a shutdown is not likely – even if a stalemate is in the offing.

-Cronkite News video by Tyler Fingert

Molly Reynolds, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said the most likely outcome of this week’s budget wrangling will be another short-term spending deal – Congress has already extended the budget twice this fiscal year – to give negotiators more time.

But nothing is off the table, said Reynolds, who agreed with Democrats that the biggest obstacle to getting a deal by Friday is, in fact, funding for the border wall.

“The biggest obstacle to getting a deal here is figuring out exactly what they are going to do about the money for the border wall,” she said.

Reynolds agreed with Schumer that leaders on both sides of the aisle were getting close to a deal before Trump’s tweets about the issue.

“The real question now is how aggressive are they going to be?” Reynolds asked. “Are they going to stick with that very hard line? Will Trump threaten to veto a bill that does not include funding for a border wall?”

After tweeting Sunday that “Democrats don’t want money from budget going to border wall despite the fact that it will stop drugs and very bad MS 13 gang members,” Trump added another tweet.

“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! #BuildTheWall,” his tweet said.

Schumer said there is time to debate wall funding later.

“Instead of risking government shutdown by shoving this wall down the Congress and American people’s throats, the president ought to let us come to an agreement and we’re happy to debate this wall down the road,” Schumer said.

While Reynolds expects a shutdown will be averted, Nathan L. Gonzales of Inside Elections said he is “not so sure there won’t be a shutdown.”

“Republicans are not so afraid of a shutdown, because last time we had one the party gained seats in the next election,” Gonzales said of a 2013 budget stalemate that led to a shutdown.

At that time, a Republican Congress was negotiating with a Democratic president. Now, the GOP controls both the Congress and the White House.

Gonzales is also not convinced that the president’s insistence on a wall is the only issue, despite what Schumer said.

“The notion that anything would be clean and easy on Capitol Hill would be fantasy,” Gonzales said.

– Cronkite News reporter Tyler Fingert contributed to this report.