Feb 18, 2019

What's next: A bigger spending battle

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Last week, some senior members of the White House staff had a conversation about leverage. Specifically, what leverage they might have for the congressional fights ahead. According to a senior official familiar with the conversation, Mulvaney told colleagues that part of the challenge the White House had in this most recent negotiation was they "didn't have much leverage."

The big picture: Mulvaney told colleagues that "now we do" have leverage; and he said he viewed the threat of sequestration as a bigger source of leverage for the White House than any conversation about the debt ceiling, the official said.

  • Sequestration is the massive automatic budget cuts that will happen if Republicans and Democrats can't agree by Oct. 1 on next year's spending levels.

Between the lines: If Congress doesn't cut a 2020 spending deal by Oct. 1 then more than $70 billion will be automatically cut from the Pentagon's budget and more than $50 billion will be cut from non-defense spending. For the military, and many members of Congress and the people dependent on the affected government programs, that would be a crisis.

  • Trump wants $750 billion for the military in 2020 — a massive increase. To get that huge amount of money without breaking the mandatory spending limits, the White House supports the controversial idea of the Pentagon dramatically increasing a war fund called "Overseas Contingencies Operations (OCO), which critics describe as a "Pentagon slush fund."
  • "The big battle is going to be spending," a senior White House official told me. "The president is able to fund his priorities with the OCO budget. The Democrats, less so. So as we get into the next round, they [Democrats] need a spending caps increase more than we do."

Ironically, Mulvaney, who used to be a vocal opponent of the OCO slush fund, now supports the idea of using it to circumvent mandatory spending levels, according to a source who's discussed it with him.

  • I asked a senior White House official how it wasn't hypocritical for Mulvaney to now support dramatically increasing the OCO slush fund when he'd previously railed against its misuse when he was a fiscally conservative member of Congress.
  • "Yes," the official replied. "You can say that Mulvaney fully recognizes the inconsistencies between this and his previous arguments. There's no question about that."

Go deeper: Under GOP control, budget deal blows through spending caps

Go deeper

Biden formally secures Democratic presidential nomination

Joe Biden speaks at Delaware State University's student cente on June 5. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden became the formal Democratic presidential nominee on Friday evening, per AP.

The big picture: Biden has been the presumptive frontrunner to take on President Trump since Sen. Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign in early April.

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 6,724.516 — Total deaths: 394,018 — Total recoveries — 2,996,832Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 1,894,753 — Total deaths: 109,042 — Total recoveries: 491,706 — Total tested: 19,231,444Map.
  3. Public health: WHCA president says White House violated social-distancing guidelines to make reporters "a prop" — Jailing practices contribute to spread.
  4. Sports: How coronavirus could reshuffle the sports calendar.
  5. Jobs: Better-than-expected jobs report boosts stock market.
  6. Media: The Athletic lays off 8% of staff, implements company-wide pay cut.

Scoop: German foreign minister to travel to Israel with warning on annexation

Heiko Maas. Photo: Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is expected to travel to Israel next week to warn that there will be consequences if Israeli leaders move forward with plans to annex parts of the West Bank, Israeli officials and European diplomats tell me.

Why it matters: Israeli and European officials agree that if Israel goes ahead with unilateral annexation, the EU will respond with sanctions.