Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall

Senate Democrats are threatening to withhold their votes on a spending bill for the Pentagon unless Republicans agree to block President Trump from repurposing defense funds for his wall on the Mexican border, a tactic he’s employed in recent months.

Democrats on Thursday will offer an amendment in committee to block Trump from reprogramming defense funds for his wall.

“There will likely be some amendments offered, and my vote on final passage depends on the fate of those amendments,” said Sen. Dick Durban (Ill.), the top Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee on defense.

While the bill could squeak through the committee with GOP support, Democratic votes will be needed for the measure to win Senate approval.

“It doesn’t portend very well for what’s going to happen on the floor, because we all know that without bipartisan support, appropriation bills are very difficult to call and pass,” Durbin said.

Political wrangling has not been limited to the defense bill. 

Committee work on two other spending bills were scrapped as Democrats prepared amendments blocking President Trump’s abortion policies. Republicans say that violates a deal to keep controversial policy riders, or “poison pills,” out of the spending bills.

“Both sides agreed there would be no poison pills. No partisan wrenches thrown into the gears,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) lamented Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, yesterday brought some disturbing signals that Democrats may be rethinking that commitment,” he added.

The abortion battles affect the spending bills covering the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, and the appropriations measure for the State Department and foreign operations.

That leaves the typically noncontroversial energy and water bill and so-called 302(b) allocations, which divvy up total spending among the 12 annual appropriations bills.

But Democrats are complaining about those measures, too, arguing that Republicans have shuffled resources to pay for portions of Trump’s proposed border wall and to backfill accounts he has emptied for that purpose. 

“We’re not going to vote for a budget that is partisan, attempted to be jammed down our throat, that puts an additional $12 billion in the wall. Forget that,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Without a change, Democrats could withhold support from all the bills.

“With the 302(b) allocations as they are today, I am not going to support them,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee’s vice chairman, is planning on offering an amendment proposing a different set of 302(b)s, but barring an agreement with Republicans, it stands no chance of passage.

“We like them like they are,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the committee’s chairman.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a committee member who has been known to cross the aisle and faces a tough reelection in 2020, said Democrats have not said what their preferred spending levels are.

“The Democrats have not seen fit to share with me at least the 302(b)s that they are going to propose,” she said Wednesday morning. “If they were trying to advocate, you would think they would let us know what they were.”

But even if the bills pass through committee on a party-line basis, appropriators could work something out before the bills come to the floor, noted Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

“I think we’re going to continue to negotiate,” she said.

Members of Congress are clear that they have little chance of getting any spending bills signed into law by the Sept. 30 deadline, and are preparing a stopgap measure into mid-November to prevent a government shutdown.

Jordain Carney contributed to this report.

Written by Alan Smith

Alan Smith

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