September forecast: possible government shutdown over Trump’s border wall

Martin Longman at the Political Animal blog brings up a topic no one is currently talking about, but should rightly be concerned about. Will the Government Shut Down in October?

Stan Collender, who is one of the best analysts on the congressional budgeting process, has put up a doomsday clock at his blog. It says that the Republicans have 69 days left before the government shuts down again, but the real number is less than half of that when you take into account weekends, vacations, and days when no votes are scheduled.

Or as the POLITICO Playbook correctly pointed out this morning, 14 legislative days until the government shuts down:

IT MIGHT PUT YOUR MIND at ease that August recess is around the corner, but Congress has 14 legislative days before the government shuts down Sept. 30. Yes, just 14 legislative days — including today — in session to pass a bill to keep the government open.

If you talk to top Republicans privately, they’ll brush it off, and say that there is no way PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP will want a confrontation roughly a month before the election in order to get money for his border wall. A down payment to continue to build the wall will be enough to keep Trump happy, some top Republicans say.

Can they be so certain?

IT DOESN’T TAKE MUCH IMAGINATION to see the president unhappy with a small pot of money for his signature wall. If the right goes crazy, saying Congress isn’t backing the president’s top immigration proposal, the president might get riled up. Remember: last time the president threatened to veto a spending bill his own staff had a hand in negotiating. Republicans will also be on the brink of electing new congressional leaders, which adds another complication into the mix. There isn’t much room for error, as you can see. And the president and his advisers believe that his immigration policy is a net positive for Republicans across the country.

OF COURSE, the uncomfortable reality for Republicans is that they will almost certainly need Democratic votes to get a government-funding bill across the finish line. And there are a healthy number of Democrats who don’t want Trump to have any money for his border wall.

MOST LIKELY at this point: Congress will try to use September to pass a stop-gap measure to fund government until the end of 2018.

“Stan Collender puts the odds of a October 1st shutdown at 60 percent.” Collender clearly has little confidence in this miserable do-nothing GOP Congress and an increasingly erratic and unpredictable president.

At least part of Collender’s reasoning is based on his assessment that the Republicans might actually want a government shutdown controversy leading into the early midterm voting period. I am not so sure.

While it’s true that President Trump may want to make good on his promise to veto any spending bill (whether an omnibus or a continuing resolution) that doesn’t include money for his wall, and it’s true that this could motivate and mobilize the anti-immigrant Republican base, a shutdown would be unhelpful in several ways.

[A] government shutdown is by its nature a dispute between Congress and the White House, and that would pit the most popular Republican (sadly, Donald Trump) against his own congressional majorities. If they can’t deliver what he wants, then they’re the problem. And if the Republican majority-led Congress is the problem leading into the voting period, it’s unclear that the base’s response to that will be to race out to vote for their [do-nothing] incumbent member of Congress.

Naturally, the idea would be to blame everything on pro-immigrant, pro-amnesty, pro-gang, pro-crime Democrats who won’t compromise, and that might work fairly well for some of the Senate races where Democratic incumbents are running for reelection in very Trump-friendly states. In general, though, it would probably work against House Republican incumbents too. Finally, I think it’s a stretch to think that a very public display of governmental dysfunction is a good way to convince persuadable people to reelect their representatives.

As it is, the House plans to use much of September wasting its time trying to pass another GOP tax cut, New GOP Tax Cut Plan is Really All About Campaign Contributions (yes, they really are this cynical), that will never get through a Senate otherwise preoccupied with the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings.

[The confirmation hearings] and votes are the last big hope for mobilizing the Republican base and that may not work out too great either. If they succeed in confirming him then the base may go into a post-coital slumber. I guess the hope is that they’ll be feeling so good about the conservative Supreme Court that they’ll walk on air to the polls. There’s a danger that they’ll see the main goal as accomplished and be less inclined to show support for a party that has a thousand and one problems.

If they don’t confirm him or the vote is still hanging out there when people vote, it will be the Democrats who are highly motivated and mobilized.

* * *

On the whole, though, the confirmation process for Kavanaugh is not going to be a boon to the GOP if 71 percent of Americansincluding 52 percent of Republicans – would like to see abortion rights preserved. This seems to be a case of the dog catching the car at the same moment the people are going to the polls.  I’d call that bad timing.

Having a government shutdown in this political environment doesn’t seem like something congressional Republicans will want. I’d expect them to push things through to past the election with a continuing resolution and promise to pass spending bills in the lame duck session if they lose control of either chamber of Congress. They’ll have to convince Trump to go along with that, however, and he may not care what the House Republicans think they need. You’d think that he’d be keen to help them since his political future may depend on their success, but he’s unpredictable and he may be unwilling to break his pledge to fight for his wall.

A 60 percent chance of a shutdown seems a little high to me, but it all depends on Trump. Will he want as many distractions as possible in October? Giving where the Mueller probe is likely to be at that point, it’s definitely possible. Yet, at the same time, I expect Mueller to make most of his movements in August so that there can be a little hiatus of activity during the voting period.

“The Justice Department’s longstanding practice is don’t do anything seen as trying to influence an election. That’s usually interpreted as 60 days,” says former Justice Department and former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matthew Miller. 60 days would be September 7, 2o18.

The first Paul Manafort trial beginning next week will have been concluded, and the second Paul Manafort trial is presently scheduled to begin on September 17.

I expect Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen will have either been charged, or become a cooperating witness before then.

The “next shoe” to drop will be the American co-conspirators who “colluded” with the Russian government agents already indicted by Mueller, as alluded to in those indictments.

Trump’s obstruction of justice is continuing and is ongoing, and can be filed at a future date. After all, Trump may very well pull a Nixonian “Saturday night massacre” to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which would support another count for obstruction of justice. Trump will almost certainly abuse the powers of his office by preemptively issuing pardons to his family members or members of his campaign to preclude their prosecution, which would also support another count for obstruction of justice.

I would argue these developments would weigh heavily against  any government shutdown on October 1. Republicans would cooperate with Democrats to pass a stop-gap spending bill to get past election day and defer dealing with the budget until after the election.

Martin Longman concludes, “All I can predict with certainty is that the insanity we’re all experiencing will be elevated to levels we have never seen between now and Election Day.”

Agreed! Trump will “dial it up to eleven.”

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