government shutdown

Government Drifts Toward Xmas Shutdown After Trump Blows Up Talks

Tidings of comfort, joy, and a partial government shutdown in Washington. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

Funding for nine Cabinet departments and assorted federal agencies runs out on December 21, next Friday. If nothing is done and big chunks of the federal government shut down, it will create some holiday misery for selected federal employees and people who rely on them, and won’t be at all popular. Yet nothing much is happening to head it off, as Politico reports:

The House and Senate left town Thursday with no strategy to avert a partial government shutdown next week, putting Congress on the brink of an intractable conflict that could drag out through New Year’s Day — furloughing hundreds of thousands of workers and costing taxpayers millions.

Everybody agrees this impasse only occurred because the president lost his temper during a photo op with Democratic leaders earlier this week and vowed to shut down the government if his demands for border wall funding were not met. And so Congress suddenly has to defuse a crisis no one saw coming, with no assurances that anything they could come up with would satisfy the truculent man in the White House:

Frustrated lawmakers in both parties are complaining that congressional leaders have made zero progress since Tuesday, when Trump stunned even his fellow Republicans by boasting that he would take the blame for the closure of a dozen federal agencies if he doesn’t get money for his border wall.

Lawmakers say there is no public plan to prevent a partial government shuttering. And no secret plan either.

“There is no discernable plan. None that’s been disclosed.” said Sen. John Cornyn, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, as he threw his hands into the air. “Everybody’s looking to [Trump] for a signal about what he wants to do. So far, it’s not clear.”

And that could be because Trump surprised himself with his public outburst, which contradicted all the signals he had been sending indicating that his wall is already being built or could be built without congressional appropriations. He let the Democrats bait him into a belligerent posture that made the kind of compromise in the works behind the scenes difficult if not impossible.

There had been talk of quick passage by the House (which Trump insisted he easily had the votes to execute) of an appropriations measure containing Trump’s full $5 billion in border wall money, to get the ball rolling. But as Nancy Pelosi tauntingly said during the Oval Office fracas, Republicans don’t seem to have the votes. And without House action, Senate leaders are sitting on their hands:

[T]here’s no indication that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are even talking. Senators in both parties said they were unaware of anything cooking between the two leaders, and the often-chatty Schumer was tight-lipped when asked if there were ongoing discussions. “No comment,” he said Thursday.

Normally in this kind of situation you’d see movement toward a very short-term “solution,” and there has been speculation about another stopgap bill that would run until some point in January or February. What complicates that scenario is the fact that Democrats take control of the House on January 3, which will reduce Trump’s leverage considerably. Perversely enough, that could be perfectly fine with POTUS, Politico is now reporting:

A…Republican source on Capitol Hill said that the White House could still have its border wall fight in January and also disrupt the new Democratic majority in the House from starting fresh with their own agenda. It would also more clearly pit Trump against Democrats, rather than members of his own party.

In other words, Trump may prefer another food fight like the one that created this impasse, after “saving” the Christmas peace he disrupted. This is probably the sort of “leadership” we can expect from the White House now that his party has lost its Washington trifecta and its ability to claim that it’s in charge of a federal government that can’t even keep its doors open.

Xmas Shutdown in Sight After Trump Blows Up Spending Talks