Congress Tries Again for a Deal on Border Barrier Money

WASHINGTON (Bloomberg News/TNS) -
In this Jan 15, 2019 image, a section of newly-replaced border wall separates Tijuana, Mexico from San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Congressional negotiators dug in for a weekend of talks on a security plan that includes some sort of barrier on the U.S.-Mexican border, hoping to complete a deal that’s also acceptable to President Donald Trump and avoid another government shutdown.

Negotiators are homing in on a deal with border barrier funding of $1.3 billion to $2 billion, a person familiar with the talks. Trump has demanded $5.7 billion.

Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., a Republican member of the House-Senate panel holding the talks, said Friday that he expects a deal “before the end of the weekend” that could be finalized Monday. He said some key details are still under negotiation.

Another Republican on the negotiating panel, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, said the party wants as much barrier funding as possible, and that he hopes the final amount is above $2 billion. House Appropriations Committee spokesman Evan Hollander said in a statement that Democrats want the figure to be less than $2 billion.

Even so, Fleischman said chances of a government shutdown triggered by an impasse are “next to nil.”

“There’s next to no appetite in the room on either side in either body, and that’s a good thing. We didn’t want the government shut down the first time,” he said Friday.

Indicating the level of distaste for another shutdown, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said in late January that closing the government as a bargaining chip in budget negotiations “should be as off-limits as chemical weapons are to warfare.”

Democrats and Republicans continued to exchange proposals on Friday. Texas Republican Representative Kay Granger said there still were “issues to be worked out.”

“It is not just numbers” on money, she said. “It is a fence and all that comes with it.”

The biggest wild card remains Trump. If the president doesn’t agree to a deal reached by bipartisan negotiators, some Republican senators say they’re unlikely to go along with it, although Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t ruled out bringing it to a vote.