A Bigger Shutdown Fight Looms in September

President Trump seems eager for a standoff, as this week’s spending deal only delays inevitable hot-button policy battles.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, accompanied by Sens. Cory Gardner, John Barrasso, and John Thune, speaks to reporters following a policy luncheon Tuesday.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Alex Rogers
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Alex Rogers
May 2, 2017, 8 p.m.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s next 150 days could be even more di­vis­ive than the first 100.

On Tues­day, Pres­id­ent Trump tweeted, “Our coun­try needs a good ‘shut­down’ in Septem­ber to fix mess,” fol­low­ing his call to either elect more Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors or to change the rules of the Sen­ate in or­der to jam through his agenda. He was ap­par­ently frus­trated by re­ports that Demo­crats won a num­ber of con­ces­sions in ne­go­ti­at­ing the latest spend­ing bill to keep the gov­ern­ment open through Septem­ber—when high-pro­file fund­ing fights over abor­tion, a bor­der wall, de­fense money, and more could boil over.

The battle cry from the pres­id­ent ur­ging Con­gress to neg­lect its du­ties and shut­ter the gov­ern­ment was later called by Trump budget chief Mick Mul­vaney “a de­fens­ible po­s­i­tion.” But mem­bers of Con­gress slammed the tweet, call­ing it de­struct­ive to the le­gis­lat­ive branch’s ba­sic gov­ern­ing func­tion.

“No, we don’t need a gov­ern­ment shut­down, and no, we shouldn’t change Sen­ate rules on the le­gis­lat­ive fili­buster,” GOP Sen. Jeff Flake of Ari­zona tweeted back to Trump.

Jim Dyer, a Re­pub­lic­an le­gis­lat­ive guru who has spent more than 40 years spin­ning through the re­volving doors con­nect­ing the White House, Con­gress, and lob­by­ing cor­ridors of Wash­ing­ton, told Na­tion­al Journ­al that he’d nev­er heard any­thing like it be­fore.

“He is ob­vi­ously ex­press­ing some frus­tra­tion,” said Dyer. “You nev­er know with him. I’ve giv­en up, as maybe you have too, in try­ing to un­der­stand the mes­sages he’s try­ing to send out.”

While this most re­cent spend­ing fight has been ex­as­per­at­ing to the pres­id­ent, the next ones will prove even more chal­len­ging. After Con­gress passes the $1.1 tril­lion spend­ing bill this week, “then it really gets hard,” said Dyer, who now works at the Podesta Group.

In late May, Trump is ex­pec­ted to re­lease a budget for the next fisc­al year that will in­clude a re­quest for money to build the wall on the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der, which was blocked by Con­gress in the latest spend­ing fight. Seni­or Re­pub­lic­ans on Cap­it­ol Hill wish that the pres­id­ent would move away from his top cam­paign pri­or­ity, and to­wards build­ing upon vic­tor­ies they earned in the new spend­ing bill, namely $1.5 bil­lion in new fund­ing to oth­er­wise se­cure the bor­der.

“It’s not help­ful to his goal and my goal to just be talk­ing about a bor­der wall,” Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the ma­jor­ity whip, told re­port­ers Tues­day. “I’d like to see a com­pre­hens­ive bor­der-se­cur­ity plan, and we’re work­ing to provide some ideas along that line that I think will help us sort of change the dis­cus­sion from more than just in­fra­struc­ture.”

The budget will be hard enough to pass even without the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­quest to build a bor­der wall. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion wants to add $54 bil­lion to­wards the de­fense of the coun­try while cut­ting that much in do­mest­ic pro­grams—an ask that Demo­crats and some Re­pub­lic­ans will vig­or­ously op­pose.

Then, in the fall, Re­pub­lic­ans will be hit with a dead­line to raise the U.S.’s bor­row­ing au­thor­ity. In 2015, when they con­trolled Con­gress but not the White House, 167 House Re­pub­lic­ans and 35 Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors voted against a bill that raised the debt lim­it and set the budget to 2017.

Then, by Sept. 30, Re­pub­lic­ans will have to pass a bill to fund the gov­ern­ment after the pres­id­ent and his budget chief ad­voc­ated to shut it down. Oth­er stick­ing points be­sides the bor­der wall, such as fund­ing for Planned Par­ent­hood and cer­tain Obama­care sub­sidies for low-in­come people, will ree­m­erge. That spend­ing fight will be even more dif­fi­cult than the latest one be­cause ap­pro­pri­at­ors have not yet had time to work on any of their bills.

“We’ve got 12 bills. We haven’t had one markup. So there’s no way we’re go­ing to get all of our ap­pro­pri­ations done by Septem­ber,” said one House Re­pub­lic­an ap­pro­pri­at­or, Rep. Tom Rooney of Flor­ida.

These are all ba­sic gov­ern­ment func­tions, not to men­tion the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s goal to pass both health care and tax-re­form bills that would dra­mat­ic­ally change the U.S. eco­nomy. Those ef­forts build on each oth­er. Passing the health care bill and a budget make it easi­er to pass tax re­form, since the Obama­care-re­peal bill would lower the tax baseline ne­ces­sary to make it rev­en­ue neut­ral, and with rules that avoid the 60-vote threshold.

But des­pite their ag­gress­ive agenda this year, and their will­ing­ness to pass both health care and tax re­form with only 51 votes through the budget-re­con­cili­ation pro­cess, Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors knocked Trump’s call to change the rules in or­der to make it pos­sible for them to ad­vance bills with only a simple ma­jor­ity, ar­guing that the 60-vote threshold for most le­gis­la­tion was use­ful when they wer­en’t in power. In his press con­fer­ence Tues­day, Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell re­it­er­ated that the Sen­ate would not get rid of the le­gis­lat­ive fili­buster.

While he did not re­peat his past dis­pleas­ure with Trump’s tweet­ing, Mc­Con­nell on Tues­day was joined by oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans in a call for the pres­id­ent to go ana­log.

“I really do wish some­body would take his iPhone away from him,” Sen. Bob Cork­er, a Re­pub­lic­an from Ten­ness­ee, said to re­port­ers.

Daniel Newhauser and George E. Condon Jr. contributed to this article.
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