Why the next funding fight will be tougher for Trump and Congress

Why the next funding fight will be tougher for Trump and Congress
© Getty

President Trump by the end of this week will sign a $1.1 trillion bill to keep the government open through September, preventing an early shutdown for his administration.

The legislation is a real bipartisan compromise at a time when Republicans control both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Democrats won a big victory by keeping money for Trump’s border wall out of the deal, and another by winning a commitment from the administration to continue making critical ObamaCare payments to insurers.

ADVERTISEMENT

Republicans, for their part, avoided a shutdown and won increased funding for the Pentagon and for border security. The new defense money breaks a dollar-for-dollar rule that for years prevented a hike in defense funding without an equal increase in nondefense discretionary spending.

Yet for all the hoopla, the deal was a cakewalk.

The fight this fall over spending will be tougher. Here are a few reasons.

The Trump factor

Trump raised the stakes on the upcoming negotiations with his tweet on Tuesday that the U.S. “needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!”

Senate Republicans have long been irked by Trump’s Twitter habit, but they were particularly annoyed with this one.

In 2013, during the last government shutdown, Republicans took it on their chin. They got the blame for the unpopular action, and they are pretty sure that would be the case in September given their control of Congress and the White House.

Yet Trump’s tweet increased the odds of a shutdown, to some degree, by laying out a marker and inviting Democrats to call the president’s bluff.

“The president really, really, really undermined their cause with his tweet yesterday,” said a Democratic Senate aide. “He ensured that Republicans will get the blame for a shutdown because he started calling for it in May.”

Republicans were quickly in damage control.

“The American people expect us to work together. They like it when we reach bipartisan agreement,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSunday shows preview: Shutdown negotiations continue after White House immigration proposal Senate to take up Trump's border-immigration plan next week Trump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback MORE (R-Ky.) said Tuesday.

The wall

Trump has made a number of promises.

This month, as he neared his 100th day in office, he was willing to back away from calls to include funding for the wall along the border with Mexico in the budget deal, or to cut funds for sanctuary cities and Planned Parenthood.

But his tweets this week already suggest he won’t want to back down next time.

“The next round probably will be harder because most of the big proposals that Trump requested were delayed or put off until the next round, until the 2018 budget. At that point, Congress won’t simply be able to say ‘we’re not going to deal with it now,’” said budget expert Stan Collender, executive vice president at the MSL group.

Trump believes his win in the election means he should be able to bend Democrats to his wishes, and he expects Republicans to help him.

Asked why defunding Planned Parenthood didn’t make it into the bill on Tuesday, Trump told Fox News it was because the new measure continued existing spending. “I said I wouldn't fund Planned Parenthood, and at the appropriate time things will happen,” he added.

Democrats see all three issues as poison pills, and there is little sign they will bend in September, particularly with an enlivened base and Trump’s approval ratings in the low 40s.

Collender suggests Trump should let congressional Republicans take the lead.

“A lot of it is going to be Congress versus the White House. It will depend on whether the White House has learned anything from its first few month, and whether Congress is going to tell the White House that it’s better to leave them to handle it,” said Collender.

Yet even here there are difficulties. Republicans are divided, for example, on Trump’s wall.

The debt ceiling

Congress is going to have to raise the debt ceiling later this year, and the chances that this fight will become entwined with the next fight over government spending are high.

Raising the debt ceiling was a nightmare for Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAEI names Robert Doar as new president GOP can't excommunicate King and ignore Trump playing to white supremacy and racism House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King MORE’s (R-Wis.) predecessor, John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBreaking the impasse on shutdown, border security McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King MORE (R-Ohio).

BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBreaking the impasse on shutdown, border security McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King MORE was constantly under pressure from conservatives to pair the debt hike with spending cuts, which Democrats and the White House opposed.

The former Speaker was usually forced to back down, which cost him support with his conference.

Now Ryan faces that situation, but in a Washington where the political players have changed.

Instead of former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaAmericans need an economy that supports more than the 1 percent Pompeo’s retreat into chaos Barack Obama wishes Michelle a happy birthday: 'You’re one of a kind' MORE, it is Trump who is likely to bear the political responsibility if the debt ceiling isn’t raised. The failure could lead the U.S. government to default on its debts, something that could cause a financial crisis.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin last week vowed that the debt limit would be raised and that it would not become a crisis.

It’s possible that Congress will agree to a clean hike to the debt ceiling and that it will not be paired with anything.

But since the rise of the Tea Party movement, that hasn’t happened with the GOP Congress.

“The key thing on the debt ceiling is the Freedom Caucus,” said Collender, referring to the conservative House caucus. “If they go along with raising the debt ceiling, which they never have before, then Paul Ryan won’t need Democrats to get it done.”

If the GOP, as expected, is divided over raising the debt ceiling, it will give plenty of leverage to Democrats in Congress.