Don’t Look Now, But Another Government Shutdown Threat Looms This Fall

Just when you thought it was safe to access federal facilities, we could be looking at another government shutdown crisis real soon. Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Aside from the Senate’s hearings, debate, and votes over Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation as Supreme Court justice, this do-little Congress wouldn’t normally be likely to do a whole lot before the midterm elections that will determine its future shape. But if you remember the government shutdown crisis that ended in March when Donald Trump signed an omnibus appropriations bill keeping the lights on until the end of the fiscal year (September 30), you may also remember Trump issued a Fire Next Time kind of threat:

“I say to Congress, I will never sign another bill like this again,” Trump said, also calling on Congress to give him a line-item veto, a tool that the Supreme Court has said is unconstitutional for a president.

“There are a lot of things that I’m unhappy about in this bill,” he said later in his 20-minute remarks, telling reporters that he had “very seriously” considered a veto.

Like many other presidents, Trump was annoyed at the take-it-or-leave-it proposition an omnibus appropriations measure presented, and longed for a line-item veto (declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1998 after a brief existence). But Trump was also frustrated that he couldn’t (or at least didn’t) use an appropriations veto to extort border wall funding without some broader immigration deal with Democrats that he was unwilling to strike.

As usual, there was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth by the Republicans who run Congress about the hideous practice of not passing individual appropriations bills and instead relying on big fat omnibus measures. It does look like a few bills may be passed together (possibly this week) as part of a so-called “minibus” bill of noncontroversial appropriations. But some sort of larger measure will still be necessary at the end of the fiscal year, and Republicans will still need both Senate Democratic votes (since appropriations bills can be filibustered) and Trump’s approval to keep the government functioning beyond September 30.

Politico is reporting that Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer are close to an agreement to move a bill that combines defense spending with the largest single domestic spending bill (the Labor-HHS-Education bill). It could give Republicans a “win” on the higher defense spending that congressional conservatives and Trump have championed, while sneaking the most conspicuous “liberal” veto-bait across the line. The strategem is in the finest tradition of bipartisan logrolling.

If Trump can be talked out of vetoing a sorta-kinda-omnibus as a matter of general principles, there’s still the border wall issue, and POTUS has most specifically threatened a shutdown if he doesn’t get what he wants (presumably the $25 billion he has repeatedly demanded) on that front, saying this in April:

U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday threatened to shut down the federal government in September if Congress did not provide more funding to build a wall on the border with Mexico …

“We come up again on September 28th [the Friday before the end of the fiscal year] and if we don’t get border security we will have no choice, we will close down the country because we need border security.”

Presumably in order to get some hostages safely to shore before the border wall issue blows up again, appropriators are saving the Homeland Security bill which includes that item until the end of the queue. But at this point there’s no way the Senate’s going to buy $25 billion for a border wall. Sure, Trump could back down again, but as budget wizard Stan Collender points out in raising his estimate of the odds of a government shutdown in the fall to 60 percent, the president may decide a big moment of crisis over the border wall is just what the GOP base wants and needs going into the midterms:

There’s been no movement at all over the $25 billion Trump wants to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. The president has already threatened multiple times to veto a continuing resolution — the funding bill needed to keep the government from shutting — if it doesn’t include these funds and the votes don’t currently seem to exist in either the House or Senate to provide them …

Vetoing the CR and shutting the government over funding for the wall will be Trump’s best way to enrage his base further on the immigration issue before the election. Ryan and McConnell may also see a wall/immigration-motivated shutdown as the best way to increase Republican voter turnout and protect GOP incumbents.

And if the people who run the federal government think it’s a political plus to to shut it down, it’s probably going to happen. By any accounting, it’s something that needs to be taken into account when looking ahead to the fall.

Yes, Another Government Shutdown Threat Looms This Fall