Tag: fiscal 2019

The Two-Week Delay Makes A Government Shutdown Much Less Likely

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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.

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Trump May Not Really Want A Government Shutdown Now Over His Wall

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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.

Follow Stan Collender on Twitter by clicking here on @thebudgetguy.

A Government Shutdown This December? Maybe Not.

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When, in late September, President Trump acceded to the Republican congressional leadership’s demand that he not shut the federal government before the midterm elections, the very common assumption among budget wonks and political analysts was that he would shut it when the continuing resolution expired the first week in December.

I’m not so sure.

The basics of the situation are quite simple. Only five of the annual appropriations for the current fiscal year have been enacted so far and all of the agencies and departments covered by the remaining 7 are only funded through December 7. If Congress and the president don’t enact full-year appropriations or another short-term continuing resolution by then, those agencies and departments will be forced to shut down.

The sole issue is the wall Trump wants to build between the United States and Mexico. Trump says he either gets the funds (anywhere from a $5 billion initial payment to $25 billion for what we’ve been told is the full cost) or he’ll veto the appropriation that doesn’t include it.

But that was before the election results significantly changed the political environment.

There are three things to keep in mind as December 7 approaches.

1. Does Trump Want An Actual Wall Or Just An Issue? The new reality is that, with a Democrat-controlled House next year, it may make more political sense for Trump to keep the wall issue alive through the next Congress — especially if he’ll be able to blame House Democrats for it not being funded — than to get his funding now.

“The wall” isn’t the real issue anyway; it’s just a way for Trump and other Republicans to appeal to the GOP base on immigration without using language that others will find offensive.

Given how much Trump relied on immigration in the midterms, it’s a safe bet that he’ll want to keep the issue alive and to make it a major focus of his reelection campaign over the next two years. One of the best ways to do that will be not to make a stand that it be funded now.

2. Trump Will Have Multiple Opportunities To Raise The Wall Issue Next Year. If having the issue of the wall rather than the wall itself is Trump’s most important consideration, then next year will give him more opportunities than usual to keep it alive. The debt ceiling, the fiscal 2020 budget resolution, the 2020 appropriations and, if Congress doesn’t do full-year 2019 appropriations in the lame duck, another CR or omnibus, could make the wall a never-ending issue through 2019. That won’t be the case if the wall is funded in the lame duck.

3. In Reality, Trump Is A Federal Budget Wuss. When it comes to the federal budget, Trump is the anti-Teddy Roosevelt: he speaks loudly but carries a very small stick. Time and again he has sworn to shut down the government over funding for his wall only to back down for one reason or another.

The two most recent examples are very instructive. In March, Congress adopted a fiscal 2018 omnibus appropriation without funding for his wall that Trump repeatedly and vociferously promised to veto until, under pressure from members of his own administration and GOP congressional leaders, he signed it. Trump then immediately vowed to never sign another appropriation without funds for his wall and kept insisting he would veto the next CR…until he very meekly signed that this September.

Of course, there are multiple Trump tweets like the ones below threatening a shutdown that have never resulted in the government actually shutting down.

None of this means there won’t be a government shutdown this December, only that there are reasons to think it may not be as probable as many currently believe.

Follow Stan Collender on Twitter at @thebudgetguy.

Trump Will Say Democrats Stole The 2018 Election…And 7 Other Predictions

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Less than a month before the election, about a month before the start of the lame duck session of Congress, a little over about 50 days before the next government shutdown deadline on December 7 and less than three months before the next Congress begins, these 8 things are both keeping me up at night and giving me nightmares while I’m awake.

It’s therapeutic (at least for me) to share them.

1. Trump Will Insist The Democrats Stole The 2018 Election

If Democrats win one or both houses of Congress this November, Trump will insist that it happened because (1) they colluded with the Russians or Chinese, (2) they hacked the election results in all 50 states, (3) illegal immigrants voted in record numbers or (4) all of the above. Trump will say he has information proving that the results weren’t a referendum on him, that he doesn’t plan to change a thing and that he will make the Democrats pay for stealing the election.

Then see #s 5,6, 7 and 8 below.

2. Big Federal Budget Deficits Are Now Permanent

The Trump administration will soon verify what the Congressional Budget Office reported last week.  When the U.S. Treasury releases its monthly statement for   September, it will confirm that the fiscal 2018 federal budget deficit increased to close to $800 billion dollars this past year and will be at or above $1 trillion for 2019.

But that will be just the beginning.  With more tax cuts about to be considered (see #3), a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan likely to be enacted at some point in the next few years, hurricanes and other disasters almost certainly on the horizon and no serious revenue increases or spending reductions likely to be considered, $1 trillion or higher federal budget deficits are now a permanent part of the U.S. economy and American politics. The previous political goal of projecting on paper (let alone actually achieving) a balanced budget in 10 years is now gone…forever.

3. Another Huge Tax Cut Will Happen This Year

I’m increasingly convinced that, during the lame duck, the Senate will take up the tax cut the House passed just before it recessed for the election. My sources on Capitol Hill tell me that preparations are already underway for Congress to quickly adopt a budget resolution at the start of the lame duck just so the Senate will be able to avoid a filibuster on the tax bill.

This will increase the deficit by another $600 billion to $700 billion over the next decade, and much more after that.

4. The Budget Deficit Will Reach $2 Trillion By 2024

There will be an economic downturn at some point over the next few years. Combined with #2 and #3 above, this will increase the deficit to close to $2 trillion.

5. Trump Will Ignore Democratic Subpoenas And Set Off A Huge Appropriations Fight

The common assumption seems to be that, if the Democrats are in the majority in one or both houses of Congress next year, as part of official committee investigations they will inundate the Trump administration with subpoenas for documents and witnesses. Not only do I seriously doubt that the White House will meekly comply with these subpoenas, I expect the president to routinely assert every possible reason that he doesn’t have to do so.

Yes, the courts will then get involved. But I also expect congressional Democrats to use next year’s appropriations process to push the administration to comply. It wouldn’t be shocking, for example, if Democrats threaten the funding for several assistant secretaries and the White House counsel in response to the White House’s stonewalling.

6. Shutdown Showdowns Are About To Become Even More Of A Thing

There will be multiple shutdown fights for two reasons.  First, Trump may not agree to full-year funding in any form (a continuing resolution, omnibus appropriation or Department of Homeland Security appropriation) without money for his wall. He’s far more likely to agree to a series of short-term funding bills that allow him to keep raising the issue, especially if he’s able to blame a Democratic majority for the wall not happening. That will set up frequent shutdown threats every year.

Second, see #5.

7. Trump Will Precipitate A Debt Ceiling Fight Sooner Than Expected

The federal debt ceiling was suspended by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 until March 1, 2019, and the overwhelming assumption is that the Treasury will use “extraordinary measures” (the Washington equivalent of getting a cash advance on one credit card to make a payment on another) to delay raise the debt ceiling until September.

But just because Treasury has always used extraordinary measures in the past doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to use them this time. Trump could easily at least threaten not to use these bookkeeping gimmicks at all or to stop using them at some point before September if the president doesn’t get something (such as funding for his wall, a space force and a military parade) he wants in return.

8. Trump 2020 Budget Will Be An Even Bigger Political Statement

The first two Trump budgets basically were campaign brochures masquerading as official federal documents. The next Trump budget — fir fiscal 2020 budget — will be released as his reelection efforts formally get underway and so will have very little to do with governing. It will be largely forgotten on Capitol Hill within two weeks of it being released.

Click Here To Follow Stan Collender on Twitter @thebudgetguy

Donald Trump Is A Federal Budget Wuss

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The fiscal 2019 appropriations Congress is sending the White House include much more spending than the president requested, don’t have most of the spending cuts he proposed, don’t provide the $5 billion he demanded for the wall he wants built between the United States and Mexico and don’t stop funding for Planned Parenthood.

That’s much more than just a slap of Trump’s face by the GOP-controlled House and Senate: It’s a crack upside his head with a 2×4.

And, in response to Congress’s almost wholesale rejection of his budget priorities, Trump did…wait for it…nothing, or at least nothing meaningful.

Yes, on multiple occasions over the past year Trump huffed and puffed and menacingly threatened to blow Congress’s house down by shutting the federal government if he didn’t get what he wanted.

But when faced with the opportunity this week to veto the legislation that didn’t provide any money for his wall and actually to shut down the government, Trump ran from the fight he had been threatening so loudly for so long. While he was 250 miles away from Capital Hill in New York, Trump meekly said he would avoid the confrontation with Congress and sign whatever he was sent.

In other words, Donald Trump is a federal budget wuss.

This was a not strategic retreat by the White House. If anything, it’s going to be even harder for Trump to get what he wants on spending and taxes in a lame duck session than it was before. This was his best chance.

This is especially true of funding for his wall. Congress has already refused multiple times to provide the funds Trump wants and that isn’t likely to change after the election. That’s particularly true if the Democratic wave many are predicting actually happens and Trump’s policies become even less important to Republicans.

It’s also true of Trump’s other budget priorities. The two “minibus” appropriations that Trump’s signature will enact will provide funding for the full fiscal year and include the majority of the spending the president gets to approve. Trump simply won’t be able to have that much of an impact on what’s left even if he tries.

But even more important than the rejection of his budget policies is the fact that Congress played Trump like a virtuoso and he was unable and unwilling to do anything about it.

That kind of weakness is always recognized and seldom, if ever, forgotten.

Follow Stan Collender on Twitter @thebudgetguy.

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This Is The Week We Find Out If Trump Is A Shutdown Blowhard

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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.

The facts:

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.”

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.

The Speculation:

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.

We’ll know the truth in just days.

Follow Stan Collender on Twitter @thebudgetguy.

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GOP Congress Gives Trump Its Middle Finger

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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.

Follow Stan Collender on Twitter @thebudgetguy.

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