Given President Trump's penchant for the dramatic, a government shutdown isn't out of the question
As a political weapon, a government shutdown is a bit like self-immolation — it certainly demonstrates a commitment to one's cause, but there's no real victory possible for participants. The last shutdown was back in 2013 when Barack Obama, a Democrat, was president, and Republicans controlled Congress. How will voters respond when the GOP controls both the executive and legislative branches?
Give Republican leaders on the Hill this much credit — they know it won't play well with the electorate, and by all accounts they have been working hard to come up with a spending plan to avoid this Friday's deadline. Unfortunately, President Donald Trump appears not to have gotten the memo and may embrace the kind of brinkmanship politics that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others in Congress wisely reject. It's a resolve born of Mr. Trump's signature presidential traits: inexperience, nativism and ego. His 100-days-in-office mark looms this coming weekend, and he clearly worries he has little to show for it.
What President Trump wants most of all is funding for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, a massive project that may be important for him politically, given how much he's talked it up, but amounts to an enormous waste of money, particularly considering that nearly half of illegal immigrants arrive legally but overstay their visas. Add to that the decade-long decline in illegal immigration generally and you have a solution in search of a problem — unless, of course, the point is simply to stir up anger and hatred toward a minority group, in which case the wall has been doing its job beautifully.
And here's where it really gets absurd: Mr. Trump has tried to foist the blame for a possible shutdown on Democrats, warning that unless enough of them support funding for the wall to get it through Congress, the spending plan won't contain health insurance subsidies mandated by the Affordable Care Act. In other words, the president is willing not only to hold the federal government hostage but the health care of American families, too, unless he gets money to meet an arbitrary deadline to help build a project that will take years and tens of billions of dollars to complete. Oh, and he's not even threatening the party that controls Congress; he's expecting those crucial votes from the opposition.
Nothing but clear-thinking there, right? President Trump isn't just a bull who happens into a china shop, he's a bull who prefers to be mindlessly breaking porcelain and crystal whenever possible. The confrontation may be dramatic, but it's unlikely to accomplish anything meaningful. Democrats have already called funding for the wall, hostages or not, a non-starter. Good for them. For once, a disagreement between the White House and Congress isn't a product of partisanship, it's an assertion of reason over self-aggrandizement.
If Republicans deny funding for the ACA and insurance rates skyrocket as a result, it won't be Democrats who bear the brunt of the anger. Similarly, if the government has to close offices and shutter services, it won't be Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer who gets the blame. The voters simply aren't that gullible. They know which party controls the purse strings, and thanks to the quick and partisan approval of a new Supreme Court justice by the Senate, they also know that Republicans are willing to cut corners and act expeditiously to get those things done they really want done. There's just so far that alternative facts can take a president when the actual facts aren't working for him.
Based on what members of Congress are saying, the odds of a government shutdown are probably low. Given this president's unpredictability and penchant for the emotional outburst, you probably can't rely on him to follow through with his threats. Is this another Twitter brouhaha or an actual showdown? That's a question Americans may be asking themselves a lot more often in the months ahead. Heck, in the hours ahead; Mr. Trump promises to make the flight even more turbulent on Wednesday when he says he'll reveal his plan for a massive tax cut. Buckle up, America, and keep that air sickness bag handy.