Maybe. While we can never count on President Trump actually doing anything until he’s done it, it’s looking more and more like the White House will seek to avoid another government shutdown by agreeing to the deal Congress came up with. In fact, CNN is reporting that he will sign off on it, but that’s coming from “two sources” who supposedly spoke to him. Take that for what you will. That gives the President some money for new border “barrier” construction, but barely another fifty miles worth. It’s both a victory and a loss for both sides, but you know it’s going to severely rankle Trump to take less than half a loaf. And yet he might have another card to play that hasn’t received much attention yet.
Declaring a national emergency isn’t going to do the trick because, at best, it will be tied up in court for years. Another shutdown is a loser because the Democrats appear to be salivating at the thought of getting to blame the President again. (Besides, it was a process of pulling teeth to get Chuck and Nancy to go along with even the paltry wall money in this compromise.) So what’s left?
Some have argued that there is “other money” out there in various executive branch departments that could be “differently allocated” to go toward wall construction. That’s possible, but changing the destination of previously approved tax dollars sounds like something the House could veto, or at least tie up indefinitely. Losing control of the House is really closing off a lot of options.
But Marc Thiessen at the Washington Post has another, slightly more subtle suggestion. Trump may be able to bring the Democrats back to the table for the full $5.7B by threatening them with the sequester.
To win, Trump needs to shift the debate to a place where he has real leverage: using the threat of a sequester, rather than a shutdown, to force the Democrats to give him his border barrier. In 10 months’ time, if Congress fails to act, then an automatic sequester will kick in that would reduce federal spending in 2020 to levels that Congress and President Barack Obama set in the Budget Control Act of 2011. Congress agreed to lift those spending caps for two years in 2018, increasing both defense and nondefense discretionary spending above sequester levels by $165 billion and $131 billion, respectively. But that deal runs out at the end of the year. If Congress does not lift the caps by December, then automatic $55 billion across-the-board cuts to domestic discretionary spending will take place, while defense spending will be cut by $71 billion.
That looming deadline gives Trump leverage he needs to get his wall. Democrats may not fear another shutdown, but will they really sacrifice $55 billion for domestic priorities next year just to deny Trump a measly $5.7 billion for a physical border barrier?
Could that really work? It has the benefit of Trump not needing to actually “do anything” new, nor would it result in a shutdown because we’re not talking about the next spending bill. The Budget Control Act of 2011 was only suspended for two years and if Congress wants to keep up their expanded, big spending ways, they’ll need to act to extend the suspension and get the President to go along with it. If he refuses, they’ll lose more than $50B in domestic spending just when the Democrats want to ramp up social and entitlement programs.
It sounds good in theory, but Theissen may not be fully appreciating the antipathy Nancy Pelosi feels toward the President. She just may be willing to give up all the funding (and constantly point to the things not getting done because of Trump’s refusal) rather than coughing up the “measly $5.7 billion” under discussion. Schumer is a bit more of a pragmatist so I could see him taking the bait, but the Speaker is another matter.
It’s probably worth a shot, though, assuming the President doesn’t magically come up with the cash through some other means. And if any of Trump’s inner circle is paying attention to all of this news, they’re probably already discussing the possibility with him.