Alternative headline: White House reads reviews of budget deal. After caving to Democrats on the FY2017 omnibus spending bill to avoid a shutdown, Donald Trump and Republican leadership got a chorus of boos from supporters, including Rush Limbaugh on down. This morning, Trump tried to reclaim his status as the nation’s political alpha male by cheering for a shutdown over the upcoming FY2018 budget talks:
The shutdown would actually come in October rather than September, as this new bill funds operations to the end of the fiscal year (September 30th), but the point is clear. Trump is claiming that he’ll go to the mattresses the next time, and force Democrats to either come along or force them to shut down operations. That seems to have been prompted by Democrats bragging that they got the best of Trump this time, and as the Washington Post reports, think they have unlocked the key to blocking the rest of his legislative agenda:
Democrats think they have set the stage to block President Trump’s legislative priorities for years to come by winning major concessions in a spending bill to keep the government open.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) secured nearly $5 billion in new domestic spending by exploiting disagreements between Trump and GOP lawmakers over spending priorities.
Democrats’ lopsided victory on the five-month deal, which is likely to be approved this week, means it will be very difficult — if not impossible — for the GOP to exert its will in future budget negotiations, including when it comes to Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint. …
“I think we had a strategy and it worked,” Schumer said in an interview with The Washington Post. “Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate were closer to one another than Republicans were to Donald Trump.”
This parallels what happened to Jesse Ventura in Minnesota. It took longer to happen, but Ventura’s inability to engage with the legislature or either party while governor prompted Republicans and Democrats to hammer out their own budget deal and cut Ventura out of the loop, leaving him a lame duck long before the 2002 election rolled around. Today’s tweets suggest that the White House and Trump are now concerned about seeing the same thing happen between the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, and want to reassert Trump’s relevance in the upcoming budget negotiations.
However, promoting a shutdown isn’t exactly a smart strategy. Voters don’t like shutdowns, and it requires a lot of blame-shifting work to make the other side responsible for it. Having the president demand a shutdown all but gives that game away, leaving the White House with fewer political options if and when it happens. The best strategy for a shutdown in a Republican administration would be to show just how little most government operations are really needed, apart from national-security functions. But even that should be seen as a reluctant, thrust-upon-us-by-Democrats opportunity rather than an outcome sought by Republicans.
As for Trump’s second suggestion — ending the filibuster — that dog won’t hunt for Republicans, even those who backed the nuclear option to get Neil Gorsuch confirmed. Democratic obstructionism had gone on for long enough that it moved traditionalists like John McCain, Orrin Hatch, and Susan Collins off the schneid to back Mitch McConnell’s play. It was clear that Democrats didn’t want negotiation, but a tyranny of the minority on judicial confirmations. When it comes to budgets and other legislation, however, Republicans want to make sure they have leverage while in the minority — and probably see the issue less about Democratic negotiation than White House disengagement. As much as they’d loooooooove to jam bills down the throats of Democrats, they have longer institutional memory than does Trump and his team, and aren’t going to give that prize away.
It might take a shutdown to force Democrats to the table, especially since the White House can control the dynamics of shutdowns to ensure maximum misery to their political opponents. But in order for that to succeed, Republicans in Congress have to have confidence in the Trump administration to handle a shutdown effectively, and the White House has to get tougher in defending its spending priorities than we have seen over the past two weeks.