Fight Over Border Wall Funding Could Lead To Government Shutdown
A brewing fight over funding for the President's border wall could throw a monkey wrench into plans to pass a budget by next Friday.
With Congress set to return to Washington this week after the Thanksgiving holiday ahead of a Lame Duck Session that could deal with a number of contentious issues, including consideration of the new trade deal between the United States, Mexico, and Canada, the biggest item on the calendar, as usual, will be the budget for the new Fiscal Year that began on October 1st. As has become the habit most especially in election years, before Congress left town in late September it passed a Continuing Resolution that keeps the government running through early December. Now, though, it has to at least make an effort to get a budget deal done before the end of the year, and that requires dealing with a number of contentious issues any one of which could lead to a government shutdown if a deal can’t be reached. Of all those issues, though, the biggest and most contentious will likely be the President’s demand for funding for his border wall:
Congress just can’t help itself: With a partial government shutdown potentially two weeks away, Democrats and Republicans are dug in, each side upping its demands and vowing not to buckle to the other.
President Donald Trump is pressuring Republicans to obtain at least $5 billion for his border wall, far more than what Senate Democrats are prepared to give. Democrats in turn are considering pushes for legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller and the elimination of a citizenship question from the next census, according to people familiar with the negotiations.
Meanwhile House Democrats are embroiled in a divisive leadership fight, limiting the energy that Nancy Pelosi can devote to the year-end spending negotiations. And House Republicans, set to enter the minority in just a month and a half, recognize this is their last chance to get a down payment for Trump’s wall before entering legislative obscurity.
The stakes have been lessened somewhat by deals this summer to fund about 75 percent of the government until next fall. But a partial shutdown isn’t what either party is looking for, either.
“I don’t want to screw with those deadlines; I don’t want to engage in shutdown politics. Let’s fund the federal government and move on,” Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said on Tuesday. “I wish Democrats would cooperate. They all said they want to secure the border, so OK: It’s going to require better barriers.”
“If that gets in the mix, there has to be something in return for that,” shot back Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). “I myself have a pretty hard position that Democrats should not even be engaged in discussions about that because [Trump] made it very clear that Mexico was going to pay for that wall.”
Indeed, though a shutdown would be viewed as poor optics for both sides, backing down might be worse, with each party’s base eager to fight.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has made clear he’s in no mood to swallow a major concession on wall money that would boost the president, publicly urging Trump to stay out of the negotiations.
But Trump is unbowed. He’s refused to rule out a shutdown and has told GOP leaders that he wants no less than $5 billion for the wall, according to sources familiar with internal talks. That’s more modest than Trump’s earlier demands, which went as high as $25 billion.
And some Republicans are still eager to help him get there. Last week, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced a bill providing $25 billion for the wall while proposing to pay for it by cutting benefits for undocumented immigrants and levying fines on people who cross the border illegally.
“Here is the thing: Walls work. We know they work,” Inhofe said in introducing his bill.
Still, that sum of money is now out of reach, and Democrats would need major concessions from Republicans to deliver even $5 billion at this point. Some Republicans have discussed providing that amount over two years, but the GOP has yet to rally around that position, and it’s not clear that the president would view that as enough.
In reality, there seems to be little support in either party for a confrontation or shut down over Trump’s border wall. Even before they left Washington to campaign for re-election. Republicans and Democrats had largely agreed to the spending levels for the next fiscal year. The wall has been the only significant unresolved issue, although Democrats have been attempting to use it as a bargaining chip to be used to get things that they want, such as legislation that would protect the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and removal of the citizenship question from the 2020 Census questionnaire. With respect to the wall itself, Democrats had largely conceded spending roughly $1.6 billion on the project, well below the $5 billion demand that the President has set and far below the $20-25 billion, if not more, that complete construction of any so-called border wall has been estimated to cost. As a result, the parties are far apart with respect to this one issue and the only question appears to be how far the two sides are willing to push their position in the negotiations that are likely to take place over the next month if the government is to remain funded through the end of the Fiscal Year in September.
As it stands, the current Continuing Resolution runs out a week from Friday on December 7th, meaning that Congress will either have to come up with a resolution to all of these outstanding issues by then or they’ll have to kick the can down the road with another short-term spending bill, most likely one that, at least initially, pushes the spending bill in to January for the next Congress to deal with. Ideally, this will be something that Congress can deal with before the end of the year, but there’s no guarantee that will happen. Democrats, for example, will be under pressure from their own base and from incoming members in the House to hold the line on their current position and, most especially, to hold the line on issues such as the border wall. Republicans, meanwhile, will want to get as good a deal as they can while they still have power in Congress. And then, of course, there’s President Trump, who has an agenda all his own that shifts with the wind so there’s no telling how that might change between now and whenever Congress finally votes on whatever budget deal it manages to come up with.