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A Budget Deal Is Within Reach, But Time Is Running Out

Over the past week, the headlines have been dominated by the recent furor sparked by President Trump’s racist tweets attacking four House Democratic Congresswomen of color and the emergence of xenophobic “send her back” chants directed at one of those Congresswomen—Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN-05)—as a rallying cry for some of the President’s most diehard supporters. However, while this abhorrent spectacle was taking place, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-12) and White House Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were quietly having talks around reaching a deal to raise federal spending caps for two years and raise the debt ceiling in the hopes of avoiding another government shutdown and keeping the federal government from defaulting on their financial obligations.

According to the most recent reports, Secretary Mnuchin and Speaker Pelosi have “reached an agreement” on a deal to raise both spending caps and the debt ceiling for two years. Unfortunately, that agreement stands on very fragile ground and there are still a number of obstacles left for both sides to overcome if they want to reach a final deal. While Secretary Mnuchin and Speaker Pelosi were able to agree on topline spending numbers for the next two years, the Trump administration is seeking $150 billion in offsets from non-defense discretionary funds over the next two years, a number that is considerably higher than what House Democrats have been offering.

Another possible sticking point is that the package being offered by the Trump administration includes a two-year extension of sequestration for certain mandatory programs that don’t require annual appropriations, like the Prevention and Public Health Fund. The Trump administration is also insisting that Speaker Pelosi agree to not add any policy riders to spending bills over the next two years, a stance that appears to be rooted in GOP fears that House Democrats will attach pro-choice policy riders aimed at weakening the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of federal funds to pay for most abortions.

However, the biggest threat to the has less to do with what’s in the spending caps and debt ceiling deal, and more to do with who’s doing the dealing. While Secretary Mnuchin and Speaker Pelosi have been able to negotiate with one another in a relatively isolated fashion, the chances of that continuing to be the case are slim and there are members of the Trump administration waiting in the wings who want to take a prohibitively hard line on negotiations, none more so than Acting White House Chief of Staff and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. A founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, Mulvaney built his political career on opposing federal non-defense spending, never voting in favor of any piece of appropriations legislation during his time in Congress. According to The New York Times, lawmakers privately acknowledge that giving Mulvaney a seat at the budget cap talks is “like putting an arsonist at the table to establish a fire prevention plan.”

With only a week left until the House leaves for its August recess, Speaker Pelosi (D-CA-12) is quickly running out of time to get legislation on the floor for a vote. According to Pelosi, a final deal would have to be reached with The White House by Friday evening to provide lawmakers with the requisite 72 hours advance notice needed to schedule a vote next week. If an agreement isn’t reached in time, Secretary Mnuchin and Speaker Pelosi may have to resort to short-term debt ceiling hike that would allow the federal government to borrow money through the August recess and into September when the House will be back in session.

Check back in frequently to AIDS United’s policy update for the latest in federal funding and policy impacting those living with and vulnerable to HIV.

Posted By: AIDS United, Policy Department - Friday, July 19, 2019

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