Donald Trump’s wall demands may decide whether 100th day is a shutdown6 min read . Updated: 24 Apr 2017, 04:22 PM IST
A partial shutdown over Donald Trump's biggest demand, money for his long-promised Mexico border wall, could start on Saturday, Trump's 100th day in office
Washington: Nobody in Washington is saying they want a US government shutdown when funding runs out at week’s end, but one person ultimately may get to decide: President Donald Trump.
Trump’s biggest demand is a Democratic deal-breaker: money for his long-promised border wall with Mexico. Democrats hope he’ll blink to avoid an embarrassing milestone for a new president trying to prove he can govern. A partial shutdown would start on Saturday, Trump’s 100th day in office.
There is an out for both sides—a short-term spending plan that would provide another week or so for negotiations after the deadline early Saturday.
But right now, each side is dug in. And Trump is making things more complicated, not less.At the same time as budget talks intensify, he’s pushing House Republicans to re-start work on an Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill after the last one imploded in March when conservatives walked away.
Trump’s also planning to announce at least the broad parameters of a tax overhaul on Wednesday that seems sure to have plenty to annoy Democrats, including likely tax cuts for corporations and high-earners.
On top of that, Trump insists he won’t go quietly even if Republicans and Democrats cut a deal. His budget director tried to sweeten the pot on Friday by offering Democrats help on their pet cause, Obamacare subsidies.
“The question is, how much of our stuff do we have to get? How much of their stuff are they willing to take?" budget director Mick Mulvaney said on Bloomberg Television. “We’d offer them one dollar" of Obamacare payments, he added, “for one dollar of wall payments right now."
Democrats called Mulvaney’s Obamacare offer a non-starter, saying they refuse to include any funds for a wall in the spending bill that would finance the government through September, the end of the fiscal year.
It’s a rare moment when the Democrats have leverage in the Republican-controlled House, since it’s likely that Republican leaders would need at least some Democratic votes to offset Republican defections on the budget—as has been the case for a series of budget fights in recent years.
‘Whatever is necessary’
Through it all, Trump has sounded upbeat, saying he thinks negotiations are in good shape to avert a shutdown. “Our goal is to continue to do whatever is necessary to fund the government," White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on Friday.
“We don’t know yet" whether Trump would sign a spending bill that doesn’t include money for the border wall, Mulvaney, a former House member from South Carolina and a founding member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said on “Fox News Sunday." The budget director said last week that Trump’s priorities, including more funds for defence and immigration enforcement, shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer’s spokesman, Matt House, complained that the White House in recent days brought a “heavy hand" into what he said were smooth-going talks between congressional Republicans and Democrats.
“If the administration would drop their 11th-hour demand for a wall that Democrats, and a good number of Republicans, oppose, congressional leaders could quickly reach a deal," House said in a statement Friday.
One thing is certain: any spending deal must be a bipartisan one. Even though Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan know they’ll both need Democratic votes to pass a government funding measure.
The Senate needs 60 votes to advance legislation, meaning the 52 Republicans will need help from at least eight Democrats. In the House, conservatives led by the Freedom Caucus and other fiscal hawks have regularly bolted on spending bills and Democrats have provided enough votes for passage.
Mulvaney has acknowledged that Democrats “have a certain amount of leverage."
But giving in to Democratic demands to get a bipartisan deal would not only threaten Trump’s wall funding, it also would require dropping Republican priorities such as language to block funding for women’s health clinics Planned Parenthood, and to defund so-called sanctuary cities that decline to enforce some immigration laws.
Congressional negotiators have been quietly working for weeks on possible compromises, including an increase in defence spending that would be less than the $30 billion Trump has sought but larger than the $5 billion requested earlier by then-President Barack Obama.
Democrats insisted during the Obama administration that any defence increases be matched by higher domestic spending, though they may show some flexibility now.
One trade-off could pair $9 billion in subsidies for insurance companies under Obamacare—a domestic spending increase—with an equal increase for regular defence operations. Another $5 billion to $10 billion in war funding could be added to that, and Democrats could justify going along with the idea given heightened tensions with Syria and North Korea.
On the border wall, appropriations lobbyist Jim Dyer of the Podesta Group suggested the issue could be solved by having wall money depend on the Homeland Security Department issuing a detailed plan later in the year, subject to bipartisan approval.
Republican appropriators, meanwhile, haven’t emphasized the issue of stopping funding for so-called sanctuary cities. The Justice Department already can restrict some local law enforcement grants to cities and states that don’t provide immigration status updates to the federal government.
Trump and Democrats
There’s also been little talk lately of the White House’s call for $18 billion in immediate domestic agency cuts as part of the package. This shows bipartisan promise in Congress, but also leaves Trump’s views largely unknown.
Democratic leaders in both chambers have complained of a lack of communication with the president until recent days.
“I don’t think there is a relationship between Trump and congressional Democrats yet," said Stan Collender, a budget analyst and executive vice president of Qorvis MSLGroup in Washington. “I don’t see them doing anything to help him at all."
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press" that “the Republicans have the votes in the House and the Senate and the White House to keep government open. The burden to keep it open is on the Republicans."
Still, if McConnell and Ryan decide they need to pass a short-term funding plan to provide time for more talks, Democrats will have a strategic decision to make—oppose it to keep pressure on Trump, or go along for fear of being the party blamed for a shutdown.
Collender said Trump may decide to declare a “win" by making compromises to avoid a shutdown similar to the 16-day partial closure in 2013 under Obama. Yet, he said, the president also might surprise people by pushing hard for his proposals. His supporters might like to see him fight for the border wall and other priorities, Collender said.
Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said, “Government shutdowns seem to have fallen out of fashion even with conservative Republicans" who forced the 2013 shutdown in an unsuccessful attempt to repeal Obamacare.
“The only hitch I see is if Trump gets dogmatic over the wall and passes the word to Ryan that they shouldn’t let the Democrats off the hook with their alternative to a brick-and-mortar wall," he said.Bloomberg
Mark Niquette also contributed to this story.