A man runs through a closed National Mall in Washington, DC, Oct 3, 2013.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/Getty Images

White House is ‘gearing up’ for a government shutdown fight

It’s one of those annoying details that the political world probably doesn’t want to think about, but current funding for the federal government expires a week from tomorrow. Without an agreement or an extension, the government will shut down at midnight, April 28.

The conventional wisdom, which I’ve largely believed, has said for weeks that a shutdown is very unlikely, but signals from Donald Trump’s White House suggest such an outcome is quite possible. Politico reported late yesterday, for example:
The White House, under internal pressure to show legislative achievements ahead of the 100-day mark, is gearing up for a government shutdown fight to secure money for a border wall, more immigration enforcement officers and a bigger military, according to White House and congressional sources familiar with the plan.

It is a risky gambit. With almost uniform Democratic opposition to nearly all of the Trump administration’s spending proposals, the fight could lead to a government shutdown next Friday…. Congressional Republicans, desperately looking to avoid a shutdown scare, are eyeing a modest increase for border security – perhaps an increase in funding for surveillance technology – and a small uptick in military spending. But two senior White House officials say they want a bigger win out of the fight, and an important deadline might help.
The report added that OMB Director Mick Mulvaney White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short are pushing for “billions” for Trump’s agenda, including money for a border wall.

There is no scenario in which this is wise.

The smart play is for the parties to quietly extend current spending levels, keeping their powder dry for the next big budget battle. Indeed, the real fight is likely to be in the fall, when the debate shifts to the next fiscal year, which begins in October.

But Team Trump is saying it doesn’t want to wait that long: it wants to fight now over funding in the current fiscal year. It sounds like GOP leaders are offering some modest, face-saving options for the president, but the White House is saying it wants more.

Meanwhile, Mulvaney, Trump’s far-right budget chief, is suggesting he doesn’t much care if the government shuts down or not. He sat down with CNBC’s John Harwood last week and said, “I think the consequences [of government shutdowns] have been blown out of proportion.” This is consistent with what we know about Mulvaney’s approach to governing: while in Congress, the Republican, a founder of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, celebrated the 2013 government shutdown as “good policy.”

The trouble is, there is no winning scenario here for the Trump administration. If Mulvaney and the rest of Team Trump stick to their guns, demand spending Democrats can’t accept, and force a showdown, the government will shut down next week.

Politically, that wouldn’t do the president any favors. The White House’s 100-day benchmark is the day after the funding deadline, and Trump shouldn’t want a pointless shutdown to be his most notable accomplishment to date.

If, however, Mulvaney and the rest of Team Trump back down and abandon their plans, the president would once again look like a weak paper tiger, talking tough but failing to follow through when the pressure’s on.

For the record, there’s never been a shutdown when one party controlled the White House and Congress. Next week, if it happens, would be a historic first.

Government Shutdowns

White House is 'gearing up' for a government shutdown fight