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Congress’ top priority: Avoiding a government shutdown

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), leaves a House Intelligence

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), leaves a House Intelligence meeting room at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Saul Loeb

WASHINGTON — Congress returns to work Monday with one top priority: avoiding a government shutdown by passing a spending bill by Friday, a task complicated by competing demands to fund the border wall and the health law.

With his Republican Party controlling the House and Senate, President Donald Trump will be facing one of his biggest tests as president and a negotiator as he marks his first 100 days in office by trying to reach an agreement with Democrats to fund the government and some of his priorities.

“I think we’re in good shape,” Trump said on Friday, expressing optimism that he would succeed in cutting a deal with Democrats on legislation to keep the government open until the next fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Lawmakers don’t have much time to act and it may not be in the interest of either side to allow a partial shutdown of the government, said Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford).

The Senate comes back Monday evening and the House on Tuesday, giving lawmakers just four days to close the deal and approve the $1 trillion-plus spending bill, unless they pass a short-term funding bill to buy more time.

The key sticking point that has emerged is over the top priorities of each side — Trump’s demand for money for construction of the southern border wall and Democrats’ insistence that Congress must fund health insurers to keep the Affordable Care Act afloat.

In a tweet Monday, Trump said his wall would be “a very important tool in stopping drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth (and many others)!,” according to the Associated Press.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney on “Fox News Sunday” left open the possibility that the president would sign a spending bill without wall funding. “We don’t know yet,” he said. “We are asking for our priorities.”

Trump spokesman Sean Spicer on Friday listed some of the administration’s key requests.

“We’ve made it very clear that we want border wall funding, we want greater latitude to deny federal grants to sanctuary cities, we want hiring of immigration agents, and we want $30 billion to infuse the military budget,” Spicer said.

Mulvaney, appearing on Bloomberg TV Friday, said he offered to include in the spending bill $1 for health insurance subsidies wanted by Democrats for every $1 for the border wall sought by Trump and other Republicans.

The position was a “complete nonstarter,” said Matt House, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, leader of the 48-member Democratic caucus, whose votes Trump needs to pass any spending measure.

Schumer told reporters at an unrelated Manhattan news conference Sunday that Trump should leave lawmakers to do their job, citing a Wall Street Journal report that GOP House and Senate members in border states don’t support the wall.

“If the president doesn’t insert poison pills that both Democrats and Republicans oppose . . . there won’t be a shutdown,” Schumer said.

Complicating matters, Trump also pushed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to pass a new version of a bill to replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. But late Friday, Trump said it “doesn’t matter” if that doesn’t happen this week.

Mulvaney said Friday he sees the negotiation over the deal he has proposed as an indicator of future relations.

“If Democrats come back to us and say, ‘We can’t do that, but we can do this,’ that’s a really, really good sign not only in the short term but in the long term,” Mulvaney said. “If they simply walk away and choose not participate in the discussions, that’s a bad sign, not only in the short term, but for the next several years.”

With Emily Ngo and Laura Figueroa

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