Republicans may be inclined to delay a funding move

President Donald Trump’s call for $1.5bn this year to help build a wall along the border with Mexico could be in jeopardy as fellow Republicans in Congress weigh delaying a decision on the request.
Republican Senator Roy Blunt, a member of his party’s leadership, told reporters on Tuesday that money for the wall likely would not be coupled with a spending bill that must pass by April 28 to avoid shutting down federal agencies whose funding expires then.
Blunt said the must-do funding “comes together better” without Trump’s additional request for the border wall and military programmes and could be considered “at a later time”.
Democrats are threatening to block the bill funding federal agencies from April 29 to September 30, the end of the current fiscal year, if money for the border wall is included.
They object to one of Trump’s premier 2016 campaign promises, saying it is poorly planned and that there are other border security measures already constructed or under consideration.
When he ran for president, Trump pledged Mexico would pay to build the wall, designed to keep illegal immigrants and drugs from entering the United States.
The Mexican government has said it will not do so.
The initiative has also faced resistance among Republicans, including lawmakers representing some border towns.
The federal government would have to purchase land in many locations in order to construct the edifice, which could make construction costs soar.
Reuters reported the wall could end up costing as much as $21.6bn, far more than the $12bn Trump cited.
Representative Mario Diaz-Balart also expressed scepticism about Congress’ ability to approve funds for the wall, given the super-majority vote needed in the Senate for most major legislation.
Asked about the wall, Diaz-Balart, a senior member of the House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee and a leading voice on immigration policy, said: “I’m always willing to look at other things we can do to try to get that 60-vote threshold” on border and interior security.
Lawmakers said progress was being made on legislation to keep the government running beyond April 28.
House Speaker Paul Ryan removed another potential land mine on Tuesday when he said a Republican drive to end federal funding for women’s healthcare provider Planned Parenthood would be best accomplished on legislation other than the upcoming funding bill.
Democrats have vowed to stop the must-do money bill if it ended Planned Parenthood’s federal funds.
Trump administration trade officials want a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement to improve access for US farm products, manufactured goods and services in Canada and Mexico, said lawmakers who met with them on Tuesday.
Members of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee met with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and acting US Trade Representative Stephen Vaughn to discuss the administration’s plans for renegotiating the 23-year-old trade deal.
Representative Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democrat, said Ross told lawmakers in the closed-door session that the administration was still aiming to complete Nafta renegotiations by the end of 2017.
That time frame is viewed by some members as “ambitious,” especially because it is not clear when the administration will formally notify Congress of its intention to launch Nafta renegotiations, Pascrell said.
The notification will trigger a 90-day consultation period before substantial talks can begin.
Tuesday’s meeting was a legal requirement to prepare the notification and preserve the “fast track” authority for approving a renegotiated deal with only an up-or-down vote in Congress.
President Donald Trump has long vilified Nafta as draining millions of manufacturing jobs to Mexico, and he has vowed to quit the trade pact unless it can be renegotiated to shrink US trade deficits.
Lawmakers said Ross and Vaughn discussed broad negotiating objectives, but did not get into specific issues such as US access to Canada’s dairy sector or rules of origin for parts used on North American-assembled vehicles.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady told reporters that market access, modernising Nafta and “holding trading partners accountable” were key objectives articulated by Ross and Vaughn
“They were very clear, they want to open access in ag, manufacturing and services as well, so they want this to be a 21st century agreement,” Brady said.
Spokesmen for the Commerce Department and USTR were not immediately available for comment on the meeting.
Lawmakers said the administration has not settled on the form of the negotiations, whether Nafta will remain a tri-lateral agreement or whether it would be split into two bilateral trade deals.
“My sense is that they are not prejudging the form, they are focused on the substance of the agreement itself with Mexico and Canada,” Brady said.
Some lawmakers expressed frustration that the Trump officials were short on specific answers.
“I wouldn’t exactly call this meeting as moving the ball forward very much,” said Representative Ron Kind, a Wisconsin Democrat.