Normally the flimsiest of “deadlines” in Washington is the expiration of appropriations bills, like the omnibus funding measure enacted last December that is due to expire on April 28. While everyone enjoys (and tries to exploit) the drama of an impending government shutdown, and the events of 2013 showed shutdowns can indeed happen, the deadline itself is disposable, since it is all too easy for negotiators to agree to short-term extensions of existing appropriations while talks continue. A one- or two-week extension remains the most likely scenario for next week, given the number of issues that must be resolved and the short time available after Congress returns from its Easter recess.
But there is an additional dynamic that could upset these expectations and create a higher risk of a shutdown: Donald Trump’s ego.
Like a howling feral dog on the edge of a peaceful town, Trump’s potential for havoc has haunted any and all sensitive congressional negotiations this year. CNN noted it as the “X factor” in the funding talks:
So far the President has not issued any major controversial ultimatums – insisting on money for certain programs or barring it from others. If that changes, it could blow up the bipartisan talks.
The reason that might happen is simple: April 29 marks the 100-day mark of the Trump presidency, and the image-conscious POTUS rather obviously hasn’t been on a winning streak.
Sure enough, Politico suggests today that the desire to show some results for the first 100 days is driving the White House toward a “harder line” in appropriations talks.
While the funding deadline can be pushed off temporarily, the 100-day milestone and the negative media assessments of the Trump presidency’s beginnings that are sure to dominate the airwaves can’t just be postponed. Thus the president’s underlings are under pressure to get some highly visible concessions in a hurry:
The White House, under internal pressure to show legislative achievements ahead of the 100-day mark, is gearing up for a government shutdown fight to secure money for a border wall, more immigration enforcement officers and a bigger military, according to White House and congressional sources familiar with the plan.
It is a risky gambit. With almost uniform Democratic opposition to nearly all of the Trump administration’s spending proposals, the fight could lead to a government shutdown next Friday — the day government spending expires, and right before the 100th day of Donald Trump’s presidency.
People familiar with the negotiations say Mick Mulvaney, the budget director, and Marc Short, the White House legislative affairs director, are pushing congressional appropriators to include “billions” for their agenda in private conversations. The White House, one person familiar with the conversations said, has pushed for $3 billion for the border wall, and discussions have been ongoing.
Border-wall funding is one of several “poison pills” congressional Democrats have signaled might justify a Senate filibuster, gridlock, and a government shutdown. Another that involves a positive demand Democrats are making also touches on Trump’s ego: an appropriation for those Obamacare “cost sharing reduction” subsidies for insurers that the president has threatened to withhold unless Democrats help Republicans enact Obamacare repeal-and-replace legislation.
Given the amount of time Trump spends claiming that undocumented immigrants are running wild in our cities and producing a hellish crime wave, you also have to figure budget director Mick Mulvaney’s recent demand that the funding bill include a cutoff of grants to “sanctuary cities” — still more shutdown bait — may have had its origins in the Oval Office.
All in all, if negotiators reach a tentative deal next week — or more likely, decide to kick the can down the road for a week or two — they will probably be checking their phones nervously for Twitter explosions from the man just down Pennsylvania Avenue. The president is certainly capable of pretending, as he’s already done, that his first 100 days were one long triumphal march toward unprecedented accomplishments. But if he decides he needs more trophies because his evil media enemies don’t see it, look out!