The first formal talks aimed at preventing another government shutdown began on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
The group of House and Senate lawmakers tasked with drawing up a new border security proposal emerged from their first meeting Wednesday optimistic they can avert another government shutdown.
“It seems like the members and senators on the panel are ready to work in a constructive way,” said House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.).
The bipartisan committee of nine Democrats and eight Republicans have until February 15 to hash out a deal that would fully fund the Department of Homeland Security beyond the three-week continuing resolution President Donald Trump signed last week. Six outstanding appropriations bills for departments affected during the 35-day shutdown, which concluded Friday, must also be approved by Congress.
Any potential deal, Trump has said, must include some sort of funding for a border wall or face the risk of another shutdown. When Trump announced the end shutdown during a news conference on Friday, he threatened to use a national emergency declaration if necessary to obtain funding for the wall – a top campaign promise – if no deal is reached.
Lowey, flanked by fellow conference committee Democrats, said no money is included for the border wall. At least not yet.
Congressman Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), who co-chairs the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, met with President Trump on this issue a few weeks ago. Reed calls himself an “eternal optimist” and believes the committee will strike a deal ahead of the deadline.
“The indication from the Democrats was that if you reopen the government, we’ll negotiate in good faith,” Reed said Wednesday. “Now is the time to hold them accountable.”
Some members of that conference committee, including Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) also provided the $1.6 billion that Trump requested last year for border fencing and other security measures.
However, the conference committee is not expected to discuss the future of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) – a program protecting immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children – as talks of a compromise on border security continue. Lowey confirmed Wednesday that the two issues will remain separate as talks proceed and these talks are squarely on border security.
“I think the critical test is what’s the (amount of money for border security funding) and what are the details of where those resources are going to be deployed,” Reed said.
That’s also a concern for committee Democrats as they try to reach a deal, now for the second time.
“Everything is on the table,” Lowey said.