By Mike Lillis
August 24, 2017
The chances of a government shutdown in the fall are growing.
Congress returns to Washington next month facing a full plate of radioactive, must-pass legislation and a shutdown threat that looks more serious after President Trump suggested on Tuesday he won’t support a spending package that omits new funds for a southern border wall.
“Believe me, if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall,” he said during a fiery rally in Phoenix.
Trump’s shutdown threat is just the latest headache for the Republicans, who are already scrambling to mend deep internal divisions among rank-and-file members, manage disintegrating relations between Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and contain the fallout from the president’s ambivalent response to the deadly violence at a recent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
Increasingly pressured to demonstrate their governing chops, GOP leaders have insisted they’ll pass their spending bills in time to keep the government running beyond Oct. 1, when funding expires. And Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) pushed back on Wednesday at Trump’s suggestion that border wall funding is worth a shutdown.
“I don’t think a government shutdown is necessary, and I don’t think most people want to see a government shutdown, ourselves included,” Ryan said during a visit to an Intel facility in Oregon.
Of Trump’s threat, Ryan said the president is merely “employing a strategy that he thinks is effective for him.”
Yet with just 12 legislative days scheduled for September –– and the spending debate complicated by a Sept. 29 deadline to raise the debt ceiling –– the Republicans have little room for error. And Trump’s prime-time shutdown threat poses yet another hurdle, forcing GOP leaders to find a legislative sweet-spot that satisfies the president’s border-wall demand without alienating the Democrats, whose votes will be essential to keep the government running.
Responding to Trump’s tough talk in Phoenix, the Democrats are drawing red lines of opposition to any new border-wall funding — and all but daring Trump to follow through on his threat.
“Democrats have made clear we will not support funding for President Trump’s misguided, ineffective border wall,” Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, warned Wednesday in an email to The Hill.
“If President Trump and Republicans insist on wasting taxpayers’ money, they will be to blame for any government shutdown.”
The sentiment is widely shared among Democrats –– Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued similar statements Wednesday –– and they’ll have plenty of leverage in the fight.
Ryan has struggled to secure enough GOP votes to pass fiscal bills in the face of opposition from conservative deficit hawks, leaning heavily on Pelosi to get those measures to the president’s desk. And Schumer’s filibuster power means McConnell will need at least eight Democrats to move border-wall funding through the upper chamber — an unlikely prospect.
Indeed, a House-passed bill providing $1.6 billion for border-wall construction has gone nowhere in the Senate.
Trump, however, has made the border wall a top priority since the first day of his campaign, and he’s grown increasingly frustrated at the Republicans’ failure to give him a victory. In May, after Democrats successfully stripped a 2017 spending package of funding for new border wall construction, Trump reluctantly signed the bill –– but not before warning Republicans to hold a harder line in the 2018 spending fight.
“Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!” Trump tweeted at the time.
His remarks in Phoenix are evidence that he’s prepared to double down –– and use the bully pulpit to press his case.
GOP leaders are well aware of the political perils of a shutdown. The Republicans suffered the brunt of the public backlash over a spending impasse in 2013, when the government closed its doors for 16 days amid a conservative push to repeal ObamaCare –– an effort that ultimately failed. Party leaders are clambering to prevent a similar scenario from occurring while they control all levels of power in Washington.
Trump’s public attacks on McConnell won’t diminish the challenge facing Republicans. The Senate leader failed last month to secure the 50 votes needed to pass an ObamaCare repeal bill, leading the president to lash out in tweets and statements that the Kentucky Republican, known as a master tactician, is proving simply ineffective.
Trump kept the feud going on Wednesday by amplifying previous calls for Senate leaders to eliminate the filibuster –– something McConnell has rejected out of hand.
With Congress away from Washington for the long August recess, it’s unclear how much progress has been made in the government spending debate. John Kelly, Trump’s new chief of staff, had reached out to congressional Democrats late last month seeking common ground on issues like infrastructure and tax reform. But there have been no subsequent conversations with the White House about the looming spending fight or the border wall, a Democratic leadership aide said Wednesday.
The office of House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) declined to comment. But GOP appropriators, who have long opposed any effort to shutter the government, are carrying that sentiment into next month’s debate.
With time running thin, Congress is expected to approve a short-term continuing resolution that would fund the government, largely at current levels, for several months, potentially kicking thornier issues like the border wall to later in the year.
Because new border-wall funding was not included in the 2017 omnibus, the CR would not provide new money for the border-wall unless Republicans insist on it.
The debt-ceiling hike may also be thrown in as part of the package — a move that would alienate conservatives and make Democratic support that much more necessary.
Republicans may have some wiggle room as they walk a line between the Democrats and the president. That’s because Democrats, while adamantly opposed to new wall construction, have shown a willingness to accept other provisions that bolster border security — things like repairing existing sections of the wall and adopting high-tech border-surveillance measures.
Indeed, Democrats claimed a resounding victory in the 2017 omnibus, despite the inclusion of $1.1 billion in “border security technologies and infrastructure improvement.”
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