In this Friday, April 21, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump listens as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin speaks at the Treasury Department in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)
President Donald Trump on Thursday unleashed a tweetstorm of criticism of Democrats involved in tense negotiations on a spending bill to keep the government open, accusing them of trying to close national parks and jeopardize the safety of U.S. troops over demands to provide Americans with health care.
The talks involving congressional Republicans and Democrats had progressed relatively smoothly after the White House had backed off a threat to withhold payments that help lower-income Americans pay their medical bills and Trump dropped a demand for money for the border wall.
A temporary funding bill expires Friday at midnight, and GOP leaders late Wednesday came out with a short-term spending bill through May 5 to prevent a government shutdown this weekend.
The House and Senate were widely expected to pass the measure on strong bipartisan votes to give negotiators more time to work out their differences and avoid an ignominious shutdown on Trump’s 100th day in office Saturday.
In a series of tweets Thursday morning, the president lashed out at Democrats.
“As families prepare for summer vacations in our National Parks – Democrats threaten to close them and shut down the government. Terrible!” Trump tweeted.
“Democrats jeopardizing the safety of our troops to bail out their donors from insurance companies. It is time to put #AmericaFirst,” he wrote.
Even with Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, the Trump administration is learning that Democrats retain significant leverage when their votes are needed on must-pass legislation.
“I am optimistic that a final funding package will be completed soon,” said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “It is time that this essential work is completed so that critical programs and activities, including national defence, are properly and adequately funded for the year.”
House Republicans also had a breakthrough on their moribund health care legislation when a key group of conservatives, the House Freedom Caucus, announced it would support a revised version of the bill. Their opposition was a main ingredient in the legislation’s collapse a month ago, a humiliating episode for Republicans that called into question their ability to govern given that they’ve been promising for seven years to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
A new wrinkle emerged as Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat in the House, threatened to withhold votes for the spending bill if Republicans tried to push for a vote this week on a revived health care repeal.
“If Republicans announce their intention to bring their harmful TrumpCare bill to the House Floor tomorrow or Saturday, I will oppose a one-week Continuing Resolution and will advise House Democrats to oppose it as well,” Hoyer said in a statement.
One important moderate, GOP Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, dismissed the Freedom Caucus’ about-face as “a matter of blame-shifting and face-saving” for a bill going nowhere. Even if the legislation passes the House, it will face major hurdles in the Senate and is certain to be extensively revised if it survives at all.
The changes in the bill would let states escape requirements under Obama’s health law that insurers charge healthy and seriously ill people the same rates, and cover a list of specified services like maternity care.
The White House has been exerting intense pressure on House GOP leaders to deliver any tangible legislative accomplishments ahead of Trump’s 100-day mark Saturday, something that has yet to occur aside from Senate confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
The spending measure, which would wrap together 11 unfinished spending bills into a single bill, represents the first real bipartisan legislation of Trump’s presidency.
Democratic votes are needed to pass the measure over tea party opposition in the House and to provide enough support to clear a filibuster hurdle in the Senate, which has led negotiators to strip away controversial policy add-ons and ignore $18-billion in unpopular spending cuts submitted by White House budget director Mick Mulvaney.
The outlines of a potential agreement remained fuzzy, but aides familiar with the talks said Trump would emerge with border security money that’s unrelated to the wall and a $15-billion down payment for military readiness accounts on top of $578-billion in already-negotiated Pentagon funding. Democrats won funding for medical research, Pell Grants and foreign aid.
But negotiators rejected Trump’s demands for $1-billion to begin construction of his promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.