Shutdown, here we come! Start up the clocks and set up the sad-tourist photo ops. Despite what looked like an almost unnaturally smooth budget process in Congress over the past few weeks, we might end up with a new operational crisis thanks to sudden opposition in the White House to a bipartisan spending bill.
Apparently, no one told Donald Trump that funding for the border wall got pushed off again:
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 20, 2018
The bill doesn’t entirely zero out wall funding, but it’s not robust either. The two sides settled on about a third of Trump’s request for 2019, but it might well be the last shot to get anything:
Senate Democrats have agreed to $1.6 billion for Trump’s wall in 2019, far short of the $5 billion that Trump is seeking. Convinced they do not have the votes in the Senate to get Trump the money he wants, GOP leaders elected to put off a fight over Trump’s signature campaign issue until after the midterms.
But Trump’s tweet on Thursday raises the question many Republicans so far have been unwilling to answer: how can they assure him they will be able to secure wall funding after the midterm elections?
That’s a pretty good question, and one that might drive Trump to play hardball to get what he wants now. Roll Call’s John T. Bennett thinks this signals a budget shutdown, or may just be a way to rally his base ahead of the midterms:
President Donald Trump raised the odds of a government shutdown that lawmakers from both parties thought they had averted, calling a spending package headed his way to keep the federal lights on “ridiculous.” …
The president might simply be appealing to his conservative base with the shutdown-threatening tweet. He brought the government to the brink of a shutdown in March with a seemingly out-of-the-blue veto threat on a Friday morning with the funding clock ticking toward zero. By that afternoon, he signed a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending package after lawmakers had left town — then joined them by flying away from the White House to his New Jersey golf resort.
At that time, though, Trump said he wouldn’t sign another bill like it in the future after previously threatening to veto the omnibus bill for its lack of border-wall funding. He called a press conference to vent his disgust with the bill and made that threat explicit. Trump has been known to make threats over domestic policy and conveniently forget them later, but the media reports at the time painted him as a sucker — and he won’t have forgotten that.
Although, as Bennett also points out, Trump stopped threatening shutdowns after huddling with GOP leadership at the beginning of the month:
In fact, he has since threatened to shut down the federal government this fall unless Democrats give in to his border security demands, including giving him billions more for his proposed southern border wall. He has dropped the threat at campaign rallies and on Twitter, even as GOP leaders and rank-and-file members of the spending committees assured reporters the government would not again shut down in a few weeks.
Should Democrats continue denying Trump his border barrier and other demands and the president make good on his high-stakes threat, it would be the third funding lapse of his tenure. It also would shutter the government just weeks before voters will decide which party controls the House and Senate — and the Trump-GOP agenda — come January.
That’s really why Trump can’t, or at least shouldn’t, pull the trigger on a shutdown. Regardless of whom Trump blames for the bill in front of him, the midterm elections will take place five weeks after the budget deadline. If the federal government shuts down, especially in a dispute between Republican leaders, voters will punish the party in charge at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue for a shutdown. Even as a means of rallying the base, it’s dangerous; it signals to the Trump voters that the GOP needs to energize that there’s no point in voting for Republicans. It’d be a buzzkill that a dozen Trump rallies couldn’t overcome.
That may be why Trump didn’t explicitly threaten a shutdown, although one can certainly take a hint from his tweet-blast. He can try to sell the “Dems are obstructing law enforcement” argument in the midterms by complaining about the bill now, and still signing it. But if that’s the strategy, then perhaps that should be in all-caps, and “REPUBLICANS MUST FINALLY GET TOUGH!” can get demoted to regular case … even if it’s true.
By the way, the spending plan is awful — but the biggest problem isn’t that it doesn’t have enough spending. It’s that it has far too much spending, as usual, but no one seems to care:
Weeks before the midterm elections, conservatives in the House are gaining little traction on fiscal issues as Congress passed one spending bill after another in bipartisan votes.
It’s a significant shift from the last few years, when the House Freedom Caucus often threw a wrench into appropriations plans with demands to cut mandatory spending and advance other conservative priorities.
“It’s a little bit frustrating right now,” said Rep. Mark Walker, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), the largest GOP caucus in the House.
That battle was lost in the earlier bipartisan budget agreement, however. Six weeks before the midterms, few on Capitol Hill want to re-fight that battle in appropriations. Does Trump agree?