White House says ‘we’re in a good place’ on budget negotiations

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

There is a growing optimism in the White House that a budget agreement to avoid another partial government shutdown can be reached, a senior White House official said Thursday.

The shift from earlier in the week, when some White House officials expressed concern about the prospects of a deal, comes as key lawmakers finally begin to discuss how the budget deal will look.

“We’re in a good place. Negotiators are doing a good job,” the senior White House official said.

However, the official acknowledged that there are sticking points that could still prevent a breakthrough, but noted negotiators are at last making progress.

The hope at the White House now is that the deal will be reached by Sunday; originally, the hope was that talks could be wrapped up by Friday or Saturday at the latest. The official added that, while the White House is prepared for President Donald Trump to declare a national emergency over border wall funding, there’s growing confidence it won’t come to that.

What the President will sign is still an open question, but the official said it’s possible Trump would be willing to sign a bill that provides less than $5.7 billion for fencing or a wall. At this point, aides acknowledge they may not even get half that number in a final deal.

A senior GOP aide said the White House is not interested in a stopgap spending bill, even in the event conferees are very close to a deal by Friday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already told GOP lawmakers he does not think it is a good idea.

Senior officials have kept the President “in the loop” on negotiations, according to the official, as members trade deals back and forth in conference. The official said Sen. Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama, came to the White House to discuss a possible deal with the President, and Shelby expressed optimism about that meeting upon returning to Capitol Hill.

Following the meeting with Trump, Shelby told CNN that he and the President did not talk about an overall figure for an emerging agreement but rather the substance of what they were discussing with a focus on barriers, technology and personnel. He indicated Trump was aware that three-pronged approach is what was being formulated by the conference committee and that he thought Trump was ready to sign an agreement like that and keep the government open.

The positive aura is an improvement from what one lawmaker involved in the talks told CNN earlier, which was that every day the negotiations don’t dissolve is a win. Negotiators agree so far that the solution will include funding increases for border technology, personnel and barriers, though the specifics of those are still being hashed out.

What also remains unclear is whether negotiators will focus on coming to an agreement that the majority in both parties would find suitable, or a resolution likely to be signed by the President. Negotiators and congressional leaders have yet to receive any White House guidance on what the President would or would not accept.

Assuming that negotiators reach a deal by Sunday, the House would then vote on the proposal on Wednesday, followed by the Senate. The stopgap measure funding the government is slated to run out on Friday, Feb. 15 — three weeks from when Trump reopened the government.

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