Ten days from a government shutdown deadline, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin visited Capitol Hill on Tuesday to jump-start moribund spending talks, meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and top appropriators to smooth the way to a fiscal accord ahead of the Dec. 20 deadline.
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) emerged from the meeting upbeat, saying they expected to work over the next 48 hours to resolve minor issues in hopes of potentially striking a final deal Thursday, when Mnuchin is expected to return to the Capitol.
“We’re adults. We’re appropriators,” said Lowey. “If there’s a commitment to get our work done, I intend to keep that commitment.”
Congressional leaders have struggled to reach agreement on key issues since inking a sweeping budget deal over the summer that set top-line spending levels for fiscal 2020 and 2021. Negotiating the nitty-gritty of agency appropriations has been thornier — especially the issue of border wall construction and immigration enforcement funding.
Multiple officials from both parties said there is a mutual understanding that border issues will have to be resolved somewhere close to the status quo, where Congress provides no specific money for the wall but President Trump retains the power to shift funds from elsewhere in the government.
But the exact details of that arrangement, as well as strictures on detention beds for detained migrants and other immigration-related issues, could be trickier for the leaders to navigate.
Those matters were not discussed in Tuesday’s meeting, Lowey said. But she added that Mnuchin helped reassure congressional leaders that Trump is interested in consummating a deal before the Christmas holiday despite his impending impeachment in the House.
“He’s very cooperative,” she said. “I was very pleased with his tone. He was happy to be there. He made it clear that they want to get a deal.”