December 10, 2018
When President Trump meets with Minority Leaders Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) tomorrow, it won't be to exchange Christmas cookies. With two weeks left on the government's spending clock, the only thing Congress wants to wrap up is a deal on leftover appropriations bills. At this point in negotiations, though, Democrats might be hitting a wall. A $5 billion one.
Lately, the threat of a government shutdown is about as synonymous with December as figgy pudding. But this time around, liberals are in a staring contest with a president who doesn't blink. Donald Trump wants a border wall, and if that means giving federal employees a little extra time off at Christmas, so be it. Unlike other politicians, who might quake in their boots at the thought of turning out a few lights, this White House isn't sweating it. If anything, they welcome the opportunity for a fight over promises and principles.
"This would be a very good time to do a shutdown," Trump has insisted. In a conversation with Politico, he made it quite clear that he was "willing to do anything" to deliver on his border wall promise. And besides, playing hardball on a campaign pledge he made to voters is exactly the sort of thing his supporters have come to expect -- and admire. "I don't do anything... just for political gain," the president said. "People look at the border, they look at the rush to the police, they look at the rock throwers and really hurting three people, three very brave Border Patrol folks -- I think that it's a tremendous issue, but much more importantly, is really needed. So we have to have border security." As far as he's concerned, a shutdown over an issue this vital would be a "total winner."
Based on history, he may be right. Back in 2013, the last real shutdown of any consequence, Americans may have blamed the GOP for closing the door on some government departments, but "by next year's midterms," the Washington Post points out, Republicans actually gained power. They "expanded their majority in the House and took over the Senate." If voters held it against the GOP for going to the mat to defund Obamacare, the Post says, they "didn't hold it against them for long."
Part of that may be because no one is still falling for the big shutdown myth -- that Great Harm that Will Come to All People. While thousands of federal workers are furloughed, they almost always get paid later. By now, most Americans realize that "just because the government 'shuts down' doesn't mean everything grinds to a halt." As the Associated Press's Andrew Taylor pointed out at the height of the 2011 panic, the government will never really shut down. "Social Security checks would still go out. Troops would remain at their posts... And virtually every essential government agency, like the FBI, the Border Patrol and the Coast Guard, would remain open." The only real casualty is usually the National Park Service.
To the GOP's credit, they already did the heavy lifting on five of the most expensive spending proposals -- Defense, Labor-HHS, Education, Energy, and Veterans Affairs. That means more than 70 percent of the government's discretionary funding is sorted out and signed into law. Of the seven remaining bills on the table, it's mainly Homeland Security's that's causing all of the heartburn. As both sides will tell you, Congress has basically worked out most of its funding. Even Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said there were "very few" outstanding issues left. If leaders could come to some sort of agreement on the border wall, he thinks, the House and Senate could "wrap this up in no time." If they can't, it'll be a long 14 days before Christmas.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.