I talked to experts and aides who watch budget negotiations closely, and they don’t think we are in for a shutdown over Thanksgiving after the government runs out of money. But like Trump, they can’t rule it out. In part because Trump didn’t.
“I don’t count out the chance of a shutdown,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, in an email to The Fix. “This is a more chaotic environment than we’ve been in in recent years and there’s absolutely no certainty about how this plays out.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said last week he’s worried Trump will use a shutdown as a distraction from impeachment.
“I believe left to our own devices, Congress could work out an agreement to quickly fund the government, but I’m increasingly worried that President Trump may want to shut down the government again because of impeachment and the impeachment inquiry,” he told reporters. “He always likes to create diversions. I hope and pray he won’t want to cause another government shutdown because it might be a diversion away from impeachment. It’s very worrisome to me."
Let’s pause to explain why we’re even talking about the budget right now. The fiscal year technically ended in October, but Congress couldn’t come to an agreement on how much to fund the government, so they passed a short-term spending bill that keeps last year’s spending levels and expires Nov. 21. If they can’t agree on a year-long budget by then, they’ll fund another short-term spending bill. Or the government will shut down.
Hopping from short-term bill to short-term bill is certainly more conducive to shutdowns. It gives all three major players here — Republicans, Democrats and Trump — more opportunities to use the budget to take a stand on issues and refuse to vote for a bill until said issue is in it.
But impeachment isn’t one of those issues. Trump aside, a House Democratic aide involved in negotiations said impeachment isn’t part of the closed-door debate between Republicans and Democrats as they try to agree on the parameters for funding the government through the next fiscal year. (What is involved: How much, if any, money to give to the Trump administration to build fencing or a wall along the border. You know, the usual.)
The only time impeachment comes up in these budget talks, said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the talks more freely, is over how long a short-term resolution should go. Should lawmakers fund the government through February, past the probable end of the impeachment inquiry and a Senate trial? Or should it push the deadline back by just another month? But that’s not really holding up budget talks.
The wild card in all of this, as always, is Trump.
During Trump’s presidency, he has seemed to enjoy the drama of threatening a shutdown. “I’d love to see a shutdown” he said in 2018, just a month after a brief shutdown. He thought it might be good politics for his base, sticking it to Washington while appearing tough on immigration. Last fall, he threatened a shutdown seven times over a period of six weeks.
But when the really big one happened, a partial government shutdown for 35 days over December and into January, objectively, Trump got burned. He agreed to sign a spending bill reopening the government without getting a dime for his border wall from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Now, he’s noticeably not talking as joyfully about shutdowns.
That makes sense to Republican analysts I spoke to. Trump has been burned once. Why would he do it again? At the very least, he’s more amenable to being persuaded by Republicans in Congress that shutting down the government is politically unhelpful. Hardly any Republicans in Washington think Trump would benefit from a shutdown right now, with his presidency at its most precarious moment.
“Rather than run the risk that Trump and Republicans will be blamed, which is what happened in the past, those Republicans will say to him: ‘Why say no [to a spending bill]?’ ” said Republican Steve Bell, a budget analyst.
But as long as Trump is president, anytime there’s a spending bill deadline, we can never say never to a shutdown.