Thursday, April 20, 2017

Trump, GOP will own shutdown, if it happens -- April 20, 2017 column


President Donald Trump took credit for a Democrat’s failure to win a special election outright in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, forcing a run-off in June. 

“Glad to be of help!” he tweeted Tuesday night.

But if you want a true gauge of presidential clout, watch Congress as it wrestles with the prospect of yet another government shutdown. 

Americans have learned not to count on Congress to do much, but keeping the government open is a modest expectation. That goal, however, challenges Trump’s and congressional spending priorities.

Democrats have said no to Trump’s $1.4 billion request to build a border wall. They’re also fighting his proposed $18 billion in cuts to domestic programs to offset huge increases in defense spending.

Conservative Republicans still want to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, but saving it is a Democratic priority.

All this matters because Republicans likely will have to work with Democrats to avoid another government shutdown. Trump should help make a deal, but, as we know, he’s unpredictable.  

We’re here because Congress was unable to get its act together last December and passed a continuing resolution or temporary spending measure to avert a government shutdown. That spending authority expires Friday, the day before Trump’s 100th day in office, which he’d rather spend talking up his accomplishments than explaining why national parks are closed.

Congress went on a two-week spring break without dealing with the spending issue. The Senate returns to Washington Monday and the House on Tuesday, leaving a few days to negotiate. 

The last government shutdown, in October 2013, dragged on for 16 full days, and the one before that lasted 21 full days before it ended in January 1996. Each cost taxpayers billions of dollars and caused major disruptions in services.

“There’s not going to be a shutdown,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, assured reporters the other day. These are the same people who promised to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act on Day One.

Congress could punt again and pass another temporary extension for a week, pushing the crisis into May, Politico reported.

Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats are preemptively blaming each other.      

“Our Republican colleagues know that since they control the House, the Senate, and the White House that a shutdown would fall on their shoulders, and they don’t want it,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-New York.

Republicans need eight Democratic votes to overcome a Senate filibuster, so Democrats are trying to use their leverage to stop Trump’s agenda.

“I think Chuck Schumer and the Democrats want a shutdown,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas and architect of the last shutdown, told constituents in Texas the other day, the Texas Tribune reported.

This is rich coming from Cruz, who kept the Senate floor for 21 hours in 2013 in a vain attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act, a stunt that led to a budget standoff and then to the last shutdown.

Cruz’s antics demonstrated a truth about budget brinksmanship and government shutdowns: They don’t work. An omnibus spending bill passed, the ACA still stands, and Congress’ approval rating is a dismal 20 percent.

The cost of paying furloughed federal workers for not working during the 2013 shutdown was $2 billion, according to the Office of Management and Budget, which also cited such additional indirect costs as uncollected fees, halted IRS enforcement measures and additional interest on payments that were late, due to the shutdown.

No matter how they spin it, Republicans would suffer political fallout of a shutdown. The stars haven’t misaligned to bring on a funding gap under single-party rule since the troubled presidency of Jimmy Carter.

Even if Congress manages to keep the government open this time, another crisis looms in the fall, when the debt ceiling is reached.

The potential shutdown is a test. Trump could demonstrate he cares more about governing than electioneering and support a compromise. Congressional Republicans could show they have more aptitude for governing than squabbling.

It shouldn’t be a big ask to keep the government’s lights on.

©2017 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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