Tag: government shutdown

Trump Is Again Playing Hamlet Over Shutting Down The Government

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“To shut down or not to shut down” is what Donald Trump is yet again agonizing over right before our eyes.

I first posted about Trump’s tendency to be overly melodramatic about this question in September when he endlessly shared his thoughts about whether he would shut down the government if he didn’t get the money he wanted to start construction on his wall between the United States and Mexico. One day it was yes (“to be”) and the next day it was maybe or no (‘not to be”).

And some days it was both and, therefore, the Trump version of the whole soliloquy from “Hamlet.”

Ultimately, the answer was no shutdown. Despite his repeated threats that it was funds for his wall or else, Trump ultimately signed a continuing resolution without getting anything. In the end, he wussed out.

This may not say much about what Trump is going to do this time. After all, the situation is somewhat different given the impending Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives in less than six weeks and the perception by many that this is Trump’s last chance to fund his wall.

But given that big change, it’s noteworthy that Trump seems to be just as conflicted about a shutdown now as he was back in September. He continues to be anything but resolute and is using very Hamlet-like conditional language (“would” and “could” instead of “will”) to explain what he might do.

And his answer not only has changed daily, it’s been changing hourly. As reported today by Jacqueline Alemany in The Washington PostTrump said two very different things in separate interviews on Wednesday. He told the Post “he was open to Plan B” if Congress didn’t provide the full $5 billion he wants for his wall but told Politico that he was ‘totally willing’ to shut the government down in the fight.”

All of this points out two very important things as far as a government shutdown next week is concerned.

First, Trump himself is not yet sure about either what he wants to or will do.

Second, anything Trump says each day between now and midnight next Friday must be taken with a whole shaker rather than just a grain of salt.

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

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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

Trump Is About To Kiss His Wall Goodbye

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Donald Trump is about to give away what could be his last chance to get Congress to fund the wall he wants built between the Unites States and Mexico.

Trump wanted $5 billion for his wall this year, but the Republican-controlled Congress once again refused to appropriate anything for it in either the five full-year appropriations or the continuing resolution it has sent to the White House.

Trump could express his displeasure and disappointment over Congress refusing yet again to fund his wall by vetoing the CR, triggering a government shutdown and forcing a showdown with Congress over the issue, and for a time it looked and sounded like he might do just that.

But rather than make a stand over funding for his wall, Trump stated yesterday during an appearance in New York with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that he would not shut the government before the election over this issue.

Trump, the president who always claims he’s great at dealmaking, let the supposedly friendly GOP-controlled Congress play him big time. Congress didn’t want a pre-election shutdown, gave Trump absolutely nothing for his wall to get his cooperation and then called his bluff by in effect telling him to take it or leave it.

And, rather than trying to cut any kind of deal with the House and Senate controlled by his own party, Trump took it.

in other words, for all of his bluster and promises over the past six months that he wouldn’t sign a CR, omnibus appropriation or regular appropriation if it didn’t fund his wall, Trump folded.

Trump didn’t even get a promise from the GOP congressional leadership that it would fund his wall in the lame duck session of Congress. All House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told the president was that a shutdown after the election would be better than a shutdown before…and he bought it.

It’s very likely that the lame duck Congress won’t provide funds for Trump’s wall given that it has repeatedly refused to do so up to now and the retiring and defeated members will be less reliable votes for the White House.

Funding for the wall will be even less likely if the Democratic wave many are expecting in this election actually occurs and is interpreted by Republicans as a rejection of Trump and his policies.

And a Democratic House and/or Senate majority over the next two years is even less likely to fund Trump’s wall that the Republican majorities have been the past two years.

Trump still has three days to change his mind and veto the take-it-or-leave it deal Congress is offering him. If he doesn’t, Trump’s wall may never be heard from again.

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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Trump Has Become Hamlet. To Shut Down Or Not To Shutdown: That Is The Question

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The question of whether President Donald Trump will shut down the federal government has now become the budget equivalent of a scene from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” with Trump endlessly reciting his own version of the “To be or not to be” soliloquy.

As a result, with just 7 legislative days to go before the end of the fiscal year, and even though congressional Republican leaders are trying hard to prevent it from happening, there’s still little-to-no certainty about whether Trump will cause the government to shut its doors if he doesn’t get the billions of dollars he wants to build a wall between the United States and Mexico.

Trump has become less rather than more predictable over the past few weeks as the shutdown deadline has gotten closer and as he’s become preoccupied with Mueller, Cohen, Manafort, Sessions, Papadopoulos, the Woodward book, the anonymous New York Times op-ed, his increasing disapproval in the polls and Republicans’ apparent declining prospects in the mid-term elections.

It became obvious last week when Trump’s “Hamlet”-like erratic behavior on the shutdown was on full display.

First he was quoted by the Daily Caller last Tuesday saying he didn’t “like the idea of a shutdown” and wouldn’t cause one before the election. But on Wednesday he seemed to change his mind telling reporters “if (a shutdown) happens, it happens.”

There’s still little-to-no certainty about whether Trump will cause the government to shut its doors.

The next day, Trump said on “Fox and Friends” that he wouldn’t shut down the government before the election but would instead wait until afterwards in the lame duck session of Congress so the shutdown wouldn’t have negative political repercussions for Republicans.

But then on Friday, as The Washington Post’s John Dawsey, who was on the plane, tweeted that Trump told reporters on Air Force One the opposite of what he had indicated on Thursday: A shutdown would be good for the Republicans running for reelection this November.

Last week demonstrated that what Trump says on any given day greatly depends on who he has just talked to. Early last week it was House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), both of whom argued against a shutdown…and Trump agreed.

Trump took his cues later in the week from the people who attended his rallies and responded very enthusiastically when he mentioned a shutdown…and he agreed.

By Friday, Trump cited right-wing icons Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin as encouraging him to shut down the government to force Congress to give him what he wants for his wall…and once again Trump agreed.

So far Trump has repeatedly huffed and puffed about shutting the government only to back down at the last-minute either in response to a vague promise by Ryan and McConnell to get him his funding later or in response to pleas from the White House staff to sign whatever Congress has sent him.

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But even though Ryan, McConnell and the White House staff will all be part of the play again this time and the outcome may be the same, there will also be several new scenes and characters.

For example, Trump is scheduled to be on the road holding rallies and campaigning for Republicans two more days in September. The pro-shutdown crowds that will be there could have a substantial impact on his thinking.

In addition, Hannity et al. may try to stay in closer touch with Trump over the next few weeks than they have in the past to thwart Ryan, McConnell and the White House staff’s inevitable attempt at last-minute influence.

And, of course, Mueller, Manafort, Sessions and the others will sill be around.

All of this means that the outcome of this shutdown fight, like “Hamlet,” won’t be known until the last act. For the shutdown, that probably means very late on September 30th.

It’s important for Trump to remember, however, that “Hamlet,” while a critical success, was also one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies.

Follow Stan Collender on Twitter @thebudgetguy.