President-elect Donald Trump on Thursday made his first stamp on Congress as House Republicans bowed to his wishes and announced plans to extend government funding through March, despite warnings from top GOP senators that such a spending strategy could wreak havoc on the first several months of his presidency.
The House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) said Thursday that his staff would immediately begin work on a stopgap spending bill that would keep the government open through March 31 after consultating with Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence. A short-term funding bill sets up the possibility of a spending crisis and shutdown confrontation within the first three months of the Trump administration.
“The Trump administration had a desire to have an impact in what was in the spending bill when they take office,” said Rogers, who favored passing spending bills that would extend to the end of the federal fiscal year. “It was in deference to the Trump administration.”
A short-term spending bill would allow the Trump administration to take control of government spending within days of his inauguration, but Senate leaders worry that budget negotiations could get in the way of other pressing matters, such as confirming cabinet members and a nominee to the Supreme Court.
“I think to do anything in the Senate takes a long time,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.). “It will be a very busy first six months, and if you have to stop and finish last year’s business in the middle of that, it’s challenging.”
Most Republicans are expected to go along with Trump’s request, but the short-term punt raises serious concerns about a shutdown fight in March. Republicans will maintain control of the Senate next year, but their majority will shrink from 54 to 46 this year to 52 to 48, assuming a GOP win in a December runoff election in Louisiana.
“It’ll only get harder,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) “You’ll have a smaller margin of error in the Senate, and we’re not likely to get any Democratic cooperation in the new year.”
Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), agreed.
“I think that they’re making a big mistake for themselves,” Pelosi told reporters during a Thursday morning news conference. “They’re gonna have a kettle of fish in March that they can’t even imagine.”
The decision was announced by Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) in a closed-door meeting of House Republicans Thursday that Pence attended. Pence did not directly address the spending bill, several attendees said, but Ryan made clear that Trump wanted a short-term spending bill.
Most lawmakers with experience writing spending bills had hoped that Trump would support a long-term bill.
“The best thing to do would be to get this work done this year,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). That would “give us maximum opportunity next year to make the most of the president’s first three or four months.”
Most members of the House Appropriations panel balked at negotiating a bill of that length with President Obama and Senate Democrats.
“Would you rather negotiate with Harry Reid and Barack Obama or with Donald Trump?” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), chairman of an Appropriations subcommittee. “It’s a pretty easy choice.”
The top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), will retire at the end of December after 29 years in the Senate and had hoped to pass all 12 regular spending bills during her final year in the Senate. She had been working closely with Republican members on the committee in hopes of completing the spending bills and said Thursday she was disappointed with plans for a stopgap bill.
“We have been working constructively for a year to do our job and write appropriations bills that meet our national security, economic growth and compelling human needs,” Mikulski said.
Pence told lawmakers to be ready for busy months ahead as Congress is called to make good on Trump’s campaign promises.
“Buckle up,” Pence said, according to Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).