Wall-Eyed White House Fakes Out GOP (December 21)

Update 320 — Budget Outcome Still TBD
After Wall-Eyed White House Fakes Out GOP

Donald Trump’s decision yesterday not to sign Congress’ extension of a continuing resolution in place since September 28 to February 8 of next year has brought both the budget process and the federal government to the brink of shutdown.

It seems only a Christmas miracle could avert the partial shutdown that is set for midnight tonight.  A budget agreement thereafter would have to be struck with Democrats as well as Republicans in Congress — that is, a deal less favorable to the GOP because even though it controls government, it once again could not produce a budget.

That’s all, folks, till 2019…

Happy holidays,

Dana

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This Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders signaled that Trump was backing down from his threats to shutdown the government over his demand for $5 billion in wall funding, saying that “at the end of the day, we don’t want to shut down the government.”  On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a stopgap spending bill that would fund the government through February 8.

The Senate passed the continuing resolution (CR) extension by voice vote Wednesday evening, but the House will not take it up after the President met with House Speaker Ryan on Thursday and told him he would not sign the spending bill.

You’re a Mean One, Mr. Trump

While most of the country is slowing down for the holidays, Congress has been a hive of activity in the run-up to today’s midnight appropriations deadline. Seven of a total of 12 appropriations bills remain outstanding, after the President signed five bills into law in September. The remaining appropriations bills comprise about 25 percent of the federal government’s annual discretionary spending.

They include a four-bill spending package, currently in conference:

  • Financial Services-General Government (FSGG), including Treasury and the IRS
  • Agriculture
  • Interior and Environment
  • Transportation-HUD

and three bills that have not yet made it to the floor of either chamber:

  • Homeland Security, including the Border Patrol and TSA
  • State-Foreign Operations
  • Commerce-Justice-Science

Trump’s strategy appears to have shifted from protecting seats and finding compromise to consolidating support from his base. After coming out in favor of a clean CR, Trump faced a backlash from conservative firebrands such as Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, a doubling or tripling down on his base-focused strategy of the 2016 election and this year’s midterms.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Shutdown

With the House passing to Democratic control, today is likely Trump’s last chance to secure wall funding. Last night, the House passed a stopgap funding bill that included $5.7 billion in funding for the border wall in a 217-185 vote along party lines. The bill is essentially dead on arrival in the Senate, with 60 votes needed to pass.  Per Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer: “The bottom line is simple — the Trump temper tantrum will shut down the government, but it will not get him his wall.”

The shutdown would impact the IRS, already beleaguered by staffing and budget cuts as well as the additional task of implementing the various provisions in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) in time for 2019 filing season. A shutdown would furlough roughly 70,000 IRS workers — 88 percent of its total workforce — with former acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller suggesting that a shutdown at this point could result in a delay to the start of the 2019 tax filing season.

A Blue Christmas Present on the Way Out

So what comes next? The Senate is currently voting on a motion to proceed with the debate on the new spending bill, which includes the $5.7 billion in wall funding. The vote has been held open for hours as Senators return from as far away as Hawaii to cast floor votes.

As of this writing, the Senate vote under way is 44-46 against (a simple majority is needed to proceed). Thereafter, the bill would proceed to a cloture vote, which needs 60 votes.  It’s not a question of if, but when, this bill dies. If things play out as expected, at midnight, around 380,000 employees at nine agencies will be furloughed until further notice, with no resolution in sight. They will remain in this state until the 116th Congress convenes in January, leaving the GOP in a much weaker negotiating position — perhaps a fitting end to the GOP-controlled 115th Congress.

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