This Friday at midnight, current funding for the federal government will expire. Without some kind of agreement, Americans will see the latest government shutdown -- and the first in which Congress and the White House are held by the same party.There's more than one
dividing line in this dispute, but increasingly, the fight is coming down to one thing: Donald Trump's demand that Congress appropriate money for his border wall. As hard as this may be to believe, it appears the White House is quite serious
about this, as evidenced by this exchange
between ABC News' George Stephanopoulos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions yesterday:
STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, the president is trying to get a down payment for the border wall in the government funding bill that needs to pass this week. Democrats insist it's a nonstarter. So is the president going to insist on that funding even if it means a government shutdown?SESSIONS: I can't imagine the Democrats would shut down the government over an objection to building a down payment on a wall that can end the lawlessness.
There are all kinds of substantive problems with such a posture -- including the idea that Dems will be to blame if Republicans shut down the government -- but given the circumstances, Sessions may need a greater imagination.If the Trump administration sticks to its guns, a shutdown is inevitable, because there's simply no way Democrats will agree to spend taxpayer money on a border wall few outside the White House actually want. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal
had an interesting piece
the other day noting that among lawmakers who represent districts along the U.S./Mexico border -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- literally none of them support the president's wall proposal.But Team Trump believes it's identified an area of possible negotiation, which is actually more accurately seen as a clumsy hostage strategy. Slate reported
President Trump is apparently trying to add another item to his resume of bumbled hostage-taking efforts this week, by threatening to sabotage the Affordable Care Act unless Democrats vote to fund a border wall with Mexico.As budget chief Mick Mulvaney explained in an interview with Bloomberg Friday, the administration is offering $1 of funding for Obamacare's crucial cost-sharing reduction subsidies for every $1 of money Democrats pony up for the wall.... The implicit threat here is that, if Democrats reject this deal, the White House will cease making the subsidy payments, and likely bring Obamacare crashing down.
With very little subtlety, the president tweeted
over the weekend, "ObamaCare is in serious trouble. The Dems need big money to keep it going -- otherwise it dies far sooner than anyone would have thought."For the record, the Affordable Care Act is not dying
-- a detail Trump chooses not to understand -- but that wasn't the president's point. This was effectively his way of saying, "It's a nice health care system your country has there. It'd be a shame if something happened to it."This is not, however, a real offer. Money for cost-sharing reduction subsidies isn't some Democratic goodie to be used as a bargaining chip; it's a necessary government expenditure needed for the stability of American health care marketplaces. Threatening health care for millions in order to extort money for a border wall more closely resembles an organized-crime technique than a serious attempt at governance.And whether folks in the West Wing understand this or not, it won't work. If Trump shuts down the government, Republicans lose. If Trump starts taking Americans' health coverage away, Republicans lose. If Trump breaks his promise about Mexico paying for a border wall, Republicans lose. If Trump has to abandon his misguided shutdown strategy, Republicans lose.For a guy who claims to be an expert negotiator, Trump should have some rudimentary understanding of how leverage works. What incentive do Democrats have to help the White House in this scenario? If there was broad public support for a border wall, Dems might feel a bit more pressure, but that's plainly not the case. It's left the president to effectively declare, "Give me something unpopular or I'll do something unpopular."The fact that no one in the White House has taken Trump aside to tell him how flawed this plan is suggests either Team Trump is even less competent than many feared, or officials are afraid to tell the president what he doesn't want to hear.Postscript
: Whatever happened to Trump's secret strategy to have Mexico, and not American taxpayers, finance the wall? He added
over the weekend, "Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying, in some form, for the badly needed border wall."The comedy of errors continues.