The two-week delay in the government shutdown showdown that congressional leaders apparently have negotiated with the White House makes it less likely…and perhaps far less likely…that a shutdown will actually occur this year.
First, the longer a lame duck session of Congress goes on, the less likely that a retiring or defeated representative or senator will be around to vote at all or can be counted on to vote reliably with their leadership. They have to vacate their offices, will be losing staff, have to find a new job, have to move out of Washington and, in general, are far less focussed on being a member of Congress.
As a result, the GOP leadership will be credibly able to tell the White House that it can’t be certain of the vote count on any issue, including the one that is most likely to trigger a shutdown — the wall Trump wants built between the United States and Mexico. Because of that, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will most likely counsel Trump not to push the issue with a shutdown.
Second, the new deadline is just four days away from Christmas. Not only will representatives and senators hate being in Washington over the holiday while a resolution of the shutdown is attempted, the bad media from furloughing federal employees and the damage it might do to the economy will be much more intense than it would have been had the shutdown occurred in the middle of December.
Third, late December will be only about two weeks before the Democrats take control of the House of Representatives and could be more logically blamed by Trump for failing to fund his wall. That should make it much easier for the president to see the political wisdom of agreeing to a short-term continuing resolution in late December that will create a confrontation with Democrats just a few weeks later.
I’ve consistently been one of the most bullish people about the possibility of government shutdowns. I’ve seen one around every corner, behind every door and under every rug.
But I’m changing my stripes — or animals — from bull to bear over the potential Trump-induced shutdown this December that some think is close to inevitable. It may be far less likely than many are assuming.
If there is a fight, it will be over funding for the wall President Trump wants built between the United States and Mexico. GOP leaders talked Trump into waiting until after the election to make a stand and, with the continuing resolution set to expire in less than two weeks (take a look at the countdown clock on the budgetguy.blog’s home page for the exact number of days as of when you read this), the deadline is rapidly approaching.
But is the showdown rapidly approaching as well?
On the one hand, it makes sense for Trump to push now for the $5 billion (out of what’s been reported to be a total cost of $25 billion or more) he wants for his wall in fiscal 2019. With Republican control of the House of Representatives about to end, this December could be Trump’s last chance to get it.
Trump has shown himself to be a total wimp when it comes to making good on his previous threats to shut the government.
Or, if he waits until the next Congress, the only way Trump might get the funds may be to make a deal with the new Democratic House majority that will likely want something he finds especially distasteful — his tax returns, compliance by his family and cabinet with congressional subpoenas, etc. — in exchange.
If that’s his thinking, a shutdown this December will be a real possibility.
But that might not be his thinking.
Trump may actually prefer not to get his wall this December because it may be politically better for him to:
1. Keep the issue of the wall alive over the next two years so he can continue to use it as he runs for reelection.
2. Use the issue to enrage and motivate his base over immigration.
3. Blame the next Congress’s Democrat-controlled House rather than this Congress’s Republican-controlled House and Senate for not providing the funding.
For all his chest thumping, tweet-storming and budget braggadocio, Trump has shown himself to be a total wimp over shutting the government. Rather than vetoing an appropriation that didn’t have the money he wanted for his wall, Trump has repeatedly…and very noticeably…backed down.
That’s one of this biggest reasons that what Trump said to reporters just a week or so ago –“This would be a very good time to do a shutdown” — wasn’t taken as anything but more of his huffing and puffing and yet another empty threat to blow the government’s house down.
It’s also one of the big reasons there may not be as much to this latest shutdown ultimatum as it appears.
If I’m so adamant that what the committee came up with is such budget tripe, they want to know the changes I would recommend instead.
That’s a totally fair question that, as a budget wonk, I’m ecstatic about being asked, especially because it gives me the opportunity to include my picture above this post with my answers.
The main issue is simple: Despite their continued public protestations to the contrary, members of Congress don’t want to do any of the politically very painful things that responsible budgeting — like tax increases and spending reductions — sometimes require. The current budget process enables this behavior because it doesn’t force the House and Senate either to make those decisions or to take responsibility for not making them.
The only way to correct this is to create several hard-to-waive nudges/penalties. That’s what’s behind my big four proposed fixes.
1. No Budget Resolution, No Other Legislation.
Annual congressional budget resolutions were intended to force Congress to be held accountable on the deficit. Until they were created by the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, Congress voted for individual spending and revenue bills but never had to vote on a full budget that compared each year’s total spending with total revenues and, therefore, showed the deficit or surplus.
That worked until the House and Senate realized that the skies didn’t darken, lightning and thunder didn’t come down from the heavens and evil demons didn’t rise from below if they didn’t adopt a budget. There are, in fact, no political or other penalties for Congress failing or refusing to agree on a budget resolution.
My recommendation to deal with this is to change House and Senate procedures so that neither house is allowed to consider any other legislation — certainly not appropriations or tax bills but also no authorizations or even the naming of post offices — until the budget resolution conference report for the coming year is adopted. This requirement could not be waived under any circumstances and the only exceptions would be for bills that could pass with an extra-super majority of, say, 75 percent.
This will create a constituency for passing a budget resolution: every interest group, the White House and every House and Senate committee that wants Congress to do something on any other issue. The pressure on Congress both to do a budget and to do it early in the year would be intense.
I’m not naive. The way around “No Budget, No Other Legislation” will be for Congress to adopt a totally meaningless, pro forma budget that, for example, ridiculously projects a balanced budget with spending cuts and/or tax increases that are never going to be approved and with a wildly optimistic “rosy scenario” economic forecast that’s never going to happen.
If that’s what Congress does, there’s no procedural change that will make any difference whatsoever.
2. An Automatic Continuing Resolution At Half The Rate Of Inflation.
To stop government shutdowns, I suggest a variation on a proposal that has been constantly mentioned whenever the budget process is said to be broken: An automatic continuing resolution that keeps all agencies and departments operating whenever Congress and the president can’t agree on their regular appropriation by the start of the fiscal year.
My variation is the fiscal version of a Solomon-like decision. My automatic CR would fund all departments and agencies at the current level plus half the rate of inflation projected by the Congressional Budget Office. That would increase spending compared to what’s currently expected but reduce it compared to the baseline. That would be a lose-lose for everyone and an incentive to agree on the regular appropriation.
3. Eliminate Having A Separate Vote On The Debt Ceiling.
The federal government’s borrowing limit should be raised automatically to the level projected in the budget resolution. Congress having to vote on a budget that assumes a deficit and, therefore, higher borrowing and to then have to vote again on raising the debt ceiling to allow the government to borrow to that level makes no sense whatsoever. Having periodic threatened defaults over the debt ceiling is even more nonsensical.
4. Fully Fund The Congressional Budget Office.
CBO, the only truly successful part of the congressional budget process, includes the best collection of nonpartisan analysts in Washington. But CBO is understaffed and overworked. Give it the resources it needs to provide Congress with all the information good budget decisions require.
The federal government will shut down a week from today if Donald Trump carries out his often-made threat to veto the continuing resolution that will prevent Washington from turning into a pumpkin on September 30th at midnight.
So…at least as far as this shutdown is concerned…we’re finally going to find out whether Trump is all talk and no action since he swore this past March never to sign another funding bill without money for the wall he wants built between the United States and Mexico.
To be fair, Trump has also often made threats over the past six months not to cause a government shutdown. As I’ve been posting (most recently here), where Trump stands on shutting down the government on any day has been anything but consistent. When it comes to a shutdown, what he has said and when he has said it has had no relation to what he has said the day before.
It’s very possible that Trump has been doing nothing more than pounding his chest the past few months.
But with the new fiscal year set to start next Monday and only 3 of the 12 appropriations enacted, it’s finally put-up-or-shut-up time for Trump.
At this point there are few facts and lots of speculating about this situation.
1. Congress combined two – for the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services — of the remaining 2019 appropriations into a single bill. That combined appropriation has already passed the Senate and presumably will be adopted this week by the House week.
2. The GOP congressional leadership added a continuing resolution for the seven appropriations that will not be adopted by September 30th to this DOD-HHS “minibus.” That CR will keep all the agencies and departments in those seven bills funded until December 7th.
3. The DOD-HHS-CR includes no new funds for Trump’s wall.
4. Trump’s most recent statement on the shutdown came when he tweeted late last week that the DOD-HHS-CR bill that doesn’t provide the $5 billion he wants for his wall is “ridiculous.”
I want to know, where is the money for Border Security and the WALL in this ridiculous Spending Bill, and where will it come from after the Midterms? Dems are obstructing Law Enforcement and Border Security. REPUBLICANS MUST FINALLY GET TOUGH!
So, with less than a week to go, there’s a clear need for a CR but no way to know what Trump will do.
As Amber Phllips (@byamberphillips) reported last week in The Washington Post, the speculation about what Trump will do is rampant.
1. On the one hand, congressional Republicans don’t want a shutdown before the election and Trump supposedly has agreed to wait until the December 7th deadline to push the wall issue.
2. On the other hand, in a very Trumpian fashion, the president has indicated several times since meeting with Ryan and McConnell that he might not be willing to wait until December to get the funding he wants.
3. As much as he needs to work with the GOP leadership, Trump seems to be taking his cues on this issue as much from Sean Hannity and other conservative commentators as he is from Ryan and McConnell.
4. It’s possible that Trump realizes both that Ryan and McConnell have been playing him for close to two years about funding for his wall and that getting what he wants after the election will be more difficult than it will be now.
5. It’s also possible…and perhaps even likely…that Trump will see a fight over funding for his wall as the best way to reinvigorate the immigration issue in a big way before the election.
6. And it’s definitely possible that Trump will see a shutdown next week as a great way to divert attention away from Mueller, Manafort, Cohen, Bob Woodard’s book and the Kavanaugh nomination, especially if the Kavanaugh nomination doesn’t go well.
But it’s also very possible that Trump has been doing nothing more than pounding his chest the past few months and in the end will prove he’s a blowhard by doing nothing more than signing the CR and claiming a great victory.
No, it’s not oversight hearings into…well…anything.
And it’s certainly not a subpoena, legislation to protect the Mueller investigation or the rejection of his Supreme Court nominee.
But the GOP congressional leadership’s decision last week not to give Donald Trump the $5 billion he wants for a wall between the United States and Mexico before the election and then to make it much harder for him to veto the legislation that codifies that decision was the closest House and Senate Republicans have come since Trump was elected to publicly giving him their collective middle finger.
First, Congress decided to combine several of the fiscal 2019 appropriations together both to deal with the very limited amount of time left before the government shuts down on October 1 and to make it more likely that the wide swath of programs funded in these small omnibus appropriations (hence the name “minibus”) would attract enough votes to pass the House and Senate.
This was an act of desperation and defiance by the Republican leadership.
Second, the GOP leadership then decided to attach the continuing resolution — the bill that will be needed to keep open the agencies and departments not included in either of the two minibuses — to the combined Defense-Health and Human Services appropriation. Given that the White House staff (but not Trump himself) has indicated that the president will sign that bill, the thinking was that this will reduce or even eliminate the chances of government shutdown before the election.
This was an act of desperation and defiance by the Republican congressional leadership. Knowing that they weren’t going to approve the billions of dollars Trump has been insisting on for his wall and that they would face his wrath when they didn’t, the GOP Congress made it significantly more painful for the president to react negatively when he didn’t get what he was demanding.
This has been coming for months given that the congressional Republicans’ political needs differ so sharply from Trump’s heading into the mid-term elections.
With polls showing the Republican control of the House and Senate increasingly at risk, a government shutdown is the last thing the GOP leadership wants five weeks before Election Day and just as early voting gets underway in many states.
Trump, on the other hand, may see a shutdown over his wall as the best way to raise the reddest of red meat issues — immigration — with his base.
And Trump’s need to energize his base took on increased importance last week with Paul Manafort’s plea deal, the release of Bob Woodward’s book and the continuing aftermath of the New York Times anonymous op-ed.
So far, Trump has been anything but consistent about a shutdown.
Trump may see a government shutdown as the most dramatic thing available to him right now to divert attention. Other very dramatic diversions, such as firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, all seem unlikely before the election.
He may also see it as part of his continuing anti-impeachment strategy to energize the voters he will need to keep Congress from moving forward.
What’s most interesting and potentially most politically significant about this are that the Republicans in Congress (1) decided to devise an appropriations strategy that unambiguously helps themselves rather than Trump, (2) didn’t accommodate the White House in even some small way and (3) challenged Trump so openly.
In addition, the congressional leadership did this not knowing whether it would work. As I noted in this post, So far, Trump has been anything but consistent about a shutdown and there’s no way to guarantee he will be more rational between now and October 1 than he has been so far.
Indeed, given Manafort et al., it may be safer to assume that he won’t be.
In other words, Trump could easily decide to reply to the congressional GOP’s middle finger by giving it right back to them.
Today, with exactly (and just) five weeks to go before the start of the next federal fiscal year, nothing has changed to make the odds of a government shutdown less than they were before the House of Representatives began its summer-Labor Day recess.
As a result, I’m sticking with my previous estimate that there’s a 60 percent chance the federal government will shut down this October 1.
That is, I’m sticking with 60 percent for now. If anything, the likelihood of a shutdown is only going to increase from here.
Yes, as Carl Hulse pointed out in the New York Times, the Senate did make some progress on the 2019 appropriations this summer (although I disagree with his assertion that the Senate has “got its groove back”).
But there are still only 11 legislative days left in September and Congress as a whole isn’t close to completing the work it has to do on all the 2019 spending bills to get them signed by the president before the government turns into a pumpkin at midnight September 30.
Besides, Congress getting the 12 individual appropriations to the president isn’t the most important question.
As I’ve been posting here for months and as Sarah Ferris reported in Politico last Friday, no one has any idea whether President Trump will sign any appropriations if Congress doesn’t provide at least $5 billion for the wall he wants to build between the United States and Mexico.
And although he no longer needs to pay for his military parade, you can’t help but wonder whether Trump will now also demand at least initial funding for his space force as the price for his signature.
To say the least, up to now Trump has consistently been inconsistent and unreliable when dealing with Congress on budget issues. Congressional Republicans have every reason to be very concerned about whether, if he has the need, Trump will shut down the government.
And given last week’s Cohen/Manafort/Pecker/Weiselberg/Mueller events, Trump seems increasingly likely to have the need to do just that. If, as seems likely, Congress again refuses to appropriate the billions he wants for his wall, Trump will be handed a relatively easy way to show that he’s in charge; to look tough on immigration, the most important issue he has ridden since the day he announced his candidacy; and to reconfirm his dealmaking abilities.
Congressional Republicans have every reason to be very concerned about whether, if he has the need, Trump will shut down the government.
Being able to dictate the terms of a deal on a continuing resolution — the funding bill most likely to be needed to keep the federal government from shutting its doors — should not be underestimated as a major motivation for the president.
Over just the last few weeks, Trump has been unable to control Robert Mueller, Omarosa Manigault Newman, Michael Cohen and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He’s also had to order his secretary of State not to travel to North Korea because the North Koreans were not cooperating, deal with his tariffs not being well-received and confront the fact that his tax cut is less popular than the Affordable Care Act.
In addition, as his extensive use of executive orders and pardons demonstrate, Trump loves situations where he can make a unilateral decision…like being the sole person who may veto the CR.
Trump may also see this as his last chance the fund the wall. While there still might be an opportunity during the coming lame duck session of Congress, trump is likely to have far less leverage with recalcitrant Republicans then given that they will no longer be itching to get back to their districts and states to campaign for relection.
In addition, a Democratic takeover of one or both houses will kill almost all chances of the wall ever being funded before Trump has to run for relection.
All of this is why I think there’s still a 60 percent (but rising) chance we’ll have a government shutdown this fall.
In alphabetical order…Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels, Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, Omarosa Manigault Newman, Scott Pruitt, Vladimir Putin, Roger Stone and, of course, Donald Trump haven’t just dominated the headlines over the past six months, they’ve sucked the air out of most federal activities.
This is especially true of the federal budget which (it pains me to admit) is absolutely boring compared to all of the salacious, despicable and embarrassing stories with which it has had to compete for attention this year.
That’s about to end. Big time.
No, Manafort et. al. won’t be going away. If the brief history of the Trump presidency is any indication, new investigations, indictments, tweets and aberrant personalities will emerge this fall to supplant those that have already appeared.
But for the first time since this past March, the federal budget is about to return to the big screen in Washington…not as a comedy or action film, but as an old-fashioned cliffhanger.
Last March was when President Trump swore he would shutdown the government if the next funding bill Congress sent him didn’t include billions of dollars for the wall he wants to build between the Unites States and Mexico. He’s since repeated that threat multiple times.
The fiscal 2018 omnibus appropriation he signed in March will expire at midnight September 30. That means the GOP’s House and Senate majorities will soon be facing the implications of Trump’s budget blood oath from almost six months ago.
This is going to be pure melodrama with the fiscal equivalents of villains, damsels in distress tied to the tracks and, perhaps, one or more heroes and heroines.
If you think I’m kidding, watch the cliff hanger movie trailer below and then read the following top ten questions about what is coming over the next six weeks out loud. I’ll bet you can’t help but sound like you’re hyping the next installment.
1. Will Donald Trump carry out his dastardly plot to shut down the federal government on October 1 if Congress doesn’t provide at least $5 billion for his wall?
2. Will Trump now insist that shutting down the government depends on him also getting funding for his just-proposed but much-ridiculed space force?
3. Will House and Senate Republican leaders try to fool Trump into thinking that the best moment to shut the government will be after the election during the lame duck session of Congress?
4. Will the Congressional Budget Office and Treasury Department reports that will released just weeks before the election that confirm Trump’s big deficits finally force Republicans to face the budget realities they have been so desperate to avoid?
5. Will the confirmed Trump deficits increase the already strong dislike of the GOP tax bill even further just before the midterms?
6. Will congressional Democrats, who were blamed for the last government shutdown, be blamed again?
7. Will congressional Republicans ease the political pain of a shutdown by passing one or more 2019 appropriations so some popular departments and agencies won’t be affected?
8. Will Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney carry out his diabolical plan to lessen the political impact of a shutdown by classifying routine federal functions like national parks as essential government services that must stay open.
9. Does the House’s plan to pass another tax cut, which the Senate has already said it won’t consider, foolishly make a continuing resolution and government shutdown even more likely?
10. Which programs will really be tied to the track as the budget train gets ever closer?