A Government Shutdown – How to Frame it and Should it be Used?

My beloved cuts to FedGov bureaucracies, and no less a priority than the border wall, have been excluded from the House’s funding resolution.

But we did say legislation will be a hard slog, so slog forward we will.

In his response to the failure of the House to attach Trump’s priorities, Mick Mulvaney incorrectly said Trump may need to support a government shutdown in September to get his priorities through.

If he wants to win a government shutdown in September the Trump administration will need to frame what is actually happening better than Mulvaney did.

Procedurally, a government shutdown would not be a shutdown caused by Trump.  It would be a Democratic shutdown of government because Senate Democrats would be preventing the passage of a budget.

The process flows like this:  Budget legislation is written in the Republican House and move to the Republican Senate.  In the Senate, Republicans will try to close debate on the budget bill, but, if it includes Trump’s priorities, be blocked by a Democratic filibuster.

When the Democrats filibuster, Trump should not say he is responsible for shutting down the government.  He should reframe it so that Schumer is the one who closed it to stop the border wall and cuts to bureaucracy.  Then Trump can easily explain Republicans are trying to vote to reopen the government but Schumer is keeping the government closed because he will not allow a vote.

Framing the debate this way is easy because it flips the debate and forces Democrats to explain why they are keeping government closed.  And when they have to explain that they rapidly lose the debate.  In this argument Schumer becomes the unenviable equivalent of Newt Gingrich during the latter’s shutdown battle with President Clinton.

The major problem with this strategy is not framing it but getting Republicans to follow it and wait long enough for the Democrats to blink.

Paul Ryan is a weak Speaker who leads a not much braver caucus.  With midterm elections approaching and the ghosts of past government shutdowns during the Presidencies of Bill Clinton and Obama still haunting the minds of House Republicans, the House majority will probably fear losing such a debate a third time (although Trump would theoretically be as well positioned as Clinton and Obama were to win shutdown by blaming the opposition).

If a shutdown does occur it could very well be that the Republicans in both chambers panic too early, despite having the upper hand, and fold to the Democrats.

The shutdown card is risky because the GOP is brittle, but it does have great rewards if the Republicans can be prodded by Trump into fighting.

Personally I would use this option in September as a last resort only if other procedural options fail.  It would be my preferred option if Tom DeLay were Speaker.  But he isn’t, and so this option cannot be my first resort.

Fortunately there is more legislation coming down the pike on various funding initiatives.  A number of them could serve as a vehicle for Trump to attach his priorities as rider legislation.

And other opportunities could emerge unintentionally.  If the courts later this year strike down Obamacare subsidies, what’s left of the exchanges will collapse.  To keep the subsidies going Trump could insist any Congressional fix to the subsidies also include wall funding and agency cuts, or else be meet with a Presidential veto.

Trump has a number of legislative options to resort to.  But I would keep a shutdown option in reserve.


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