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
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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