My just published op-ed in USA Today is here.
My just published op-ed in USA Today is here.
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.
When House Republicans passed their tax 2.0 last week and then recessed until the lame duck session that begins this November, the presumption was that this latest GOP descent into bigger budget deficits was nothing more than a pre-election ploy that would never go any further.
And with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) saying that the Senate had no plans to take up whatever the House passed before the election, that seemed like a safe bet.
But contrary to what’s currently being assumed, 2.0 could definitely become law this year.
It all has to do with the filibuster.
The House-passed tax bill may be filibustered in the Senate and there’s no way that enough Democrats will join Republicans to provide the needed 60-vote margin to stop the debate and get to a vote. This will be especially true in a lame duck when it’s two years before the next election and fear of voter retribution is at its absolute lowest point.
This can’t-stop-a-filibuster problem is the GOP’s own doing. While the reconciliation procedures of the congressional budget process would have prevented a filibuster, reconciliation only happens pursuant to instructions included in a budget resolution and McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) decided early this year that there wouldn’t be one. That decision prevented reconciliation from being used and has stopped 2.0 from being enacted.
McConnell and Ryan were making a purely political calculation. They wanted to protect the GOP representatives and senators running for reelection from having to vote in favor of a budget resolution that projected trillion-dollar deficits.
But the need to protect these House and Senate members won’t exist after Election Day. That will make a budget resolution and reconciliation acceptable and, therefore, tax 2.0 doable.
It won’t be easy, but it’s certainly not impossible.
First, the House and Senate would quickly have to adopt a fiscal 2019 budget resolution with reconciliation instructions that require the 2.0 tax changes.
Second, the House-passed 2.0 would have to be designated as the legislation required by the just-adopted budget resolution’s reconciliation instructions or the House would need to re-pass 2.0.
Third, with a simple majority, the Senate could either pass its own 2.0 or…and much more likely…pass the House-adopted bill.
Fourth, the 2.0 bill now adopted by the House and Senate would then go to the president for his signature and enactment.
Don’t dismiss this out-of-hand.
The GOP has already shown its willingness to use the budget process very creatively when it passed two budget resolutions in 2017 so reconciliation could be used twice — once to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act and once for tax 1.0. This would just be a variation on that theme.
In addition, the Republican political considerations will all change significantly after the election, especially if they lose control of one or both houses. In particular, the GOP may want to increase the budget deficit as much as possible to limit what the Democrats are able to do legislatively when they’re in charge in the next Congress.
Finally, if it’s not enacted during this lame duck, the GOP’s ability to reward its supporters and donors with the tax changes provided in 2.0 may be gone for two years or longer. Republicans may want to go for it while they are still able to do so.