It doesn’t seem possible given the deep dysfunction of absolutely everything right now, but Tuesday’s budget meetings between the White House and top congressional leaders went … not horribly. Perhaps even somewhat well.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that deals for both a two-year spending agreement and a debt limit increase were discussed and could be merged into one package, taking away the threat of a Trump-inspired government shutdown for the remainder of his term. “Very encouraging,” said McConnell after the first round of talks. “Our hope is to make a deal before the day is over.” That apparently didn’t happen, as the second, previously unscheduled meeting ended without an announcement of a deal.
It appears that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is taking the reins for the White House, instead of acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. That’s encouraging, as McConnell makes crystal clear. “I’m hopeful and optimistic that the secretary of the Treasury speaks for the president in these discussions and we hopefully soon will reach an agreement.” Mulvaney remains in the room for negotiations, however, and in the Oval Office. Mnuchin is more anxious to strike a deal and to avoid the games of chicken Mulvaney has loved so much since he came to Congress and joined the Freedom Caucus maniacs. Mulvaney refused to say anything about Tuesday’s initial meeting beyond “I’m not going to talk about that.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was more cautious than McConnell, saying that while it was a “good, productive” meeting, there are “still some significant issues outstanding, particularly the domestic side spending issues like health care and infrastructure middle-class folks need.” He added that, “we need the president to sign off on whatever we agree to. […] But I think they realize, the Republican leadership and the White House, that when President Trump shut down the government, and our Republican friends went along with that, it didn’t serve them very well.”
If they can’t come up with a budget deal, they face automatic cuts under the 2011 Budget Control Act—$55 billion from domestic spending (which Mulvaney wants to happen) and $77 billion from defense (which no Republican wants)—or moving forward again with another continuing resolution, a short-term funding bill that acts as a stopgap and just invites Trump to shut down the government again.