Without some cooperation between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, the government will shut down due to lack of funding shortly before midnight Friday, May 5. Congress will vote Friday on a new spending bill that will fund the government through the end of the 2017 fiscal year in September. Democratic and Republican senators have reached an agreement on the bill to avoid the shutdown, but Donald Trump is not happy with the modifications and turned to his usual outlet – Twitter – to express his disapproval:
The reason for the plan negotiated between the Republicans and Democrats is that we need 60 votes in the Senate which are not there! We either elect more Republican Senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51%. Our country needs a good “shutdown” in September to fix mess!
Government shutdowns tend to hurt the people – including federal government employees – far more than the politicians commonly seen as the government, as members of Congress get paid regardless of whether the federal government is funded for the year. Since the Republicans are the majority party, they’re the ones who lose face when the government “shuts down” – even if they don’t lose money. Democrats in Congress claimed to take full advantage of this fact when they used the threat of a shutdown to push the bill that most benefits them. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) explained it best. The Washington Times reported:
“We made it clear that if the government shut down, it would be on the Republicans’ backs,” Mr. Schumer said. “That became the general consensus, and that gave us real leverage, even though we were in the minority.”
He said Democrats forged a partnership with congressional Republicans, who were just as eager to keep the taxpayer spigot flowing to their own priorities. The two sides agreed to increase spending overall, rejecting Mr. Trump’s efforts to streamline his administration.
The Washington Post painted the bill as a resounding defeat of the Don. In the May 1 article, The Daily 202: Eight ways Trump got rolled in his first budget negotiation, James Hohmann claimed:
There are explicit restrictions to block the border wall. We knew last week there would be no money to start construction on a project that the president says is more important to his base than anything else. But the final agreement goes further, putting strict limitations on how Trump can use new money for border security (e.g. to invest in new technology and repair existing fencing). Administration officials have insisted they already have the statutory authority to start building the wall under a 2006 law. This prevents such an end run.
To refute this – as well as most of the other points in the WaPo article – the Director of the Office of Management and Budget , Mick Mulvaney, appeared during the May 2 White House press briefing. He opened his speech by explaining that Republicans worked with the Democrats on this bipartisan bill and explained why, and then lambasted Democrats for “spiking the football” and trying to claim the bipartisan bill as a resounding Republican defeat. Mulvaney transitioned from shaming the Dems for their poor sportsmanship into addressing the points of the omnibus. He corrected the $12.5 billion to $15 billion numbers for overall defense spending increase – he claimed the numb was not below $21 billion – and finished up by addressing the southern border wall funding that allegedly doesn’t exist in the bill. With pictures of the already existing twenty-foot tall steel wall and cyclone fence on the screens behind him, Mulvaney sought to dispel the concern amongst Trump’s supporters that a wall might never materialize.
You’ve heard me talk a lot over the course of the last couple of weeks, I’ve been on television a couple of times saying, “Oh, there’s no bricks and mortar, there’s no bricks and mortar.” And there’s no bricks and mortar for a wall in this. We can build this. And we’re going to build this. There are several hundreds of millions of dollars for us to replace cyclone fencing with twenty-foot high steel wall.
Mr. Mulvaney claimed – both during his speech and the Q&A – that the steel wall was cheaper than an actual brick and mortar wall and that it was safer for border patrol agents to boot. On page 739 of the bill specifically allows the steel barrier:
$341,200,000 to replace approximately 40 miles of existing primary pedestrian and vehicle border fencing along the southwest border using previously deployed and operationally effective designs, such as currently deployed steel bollard designs, that prioritize agent safety; and to add gates to existing barriers…
During the Q&A, Mulvaney seemed to avoid questions of exactly how productive this would be. When asked specifically how many miles of bollard wall this bill would pay for, he claimed that he didn’t know and that costs would vary by site conditions. Seemingly contrary to his statement, the legislation itself specifies at least an approximate length of forty miles. The border spans 1,989 miles.
Despite the fact that the bill doesn’t fund the entire wall, Mulvaney does point out that replacing cyclone fence with a bollard wall is still an improvement – and one that Republicans likely would not have won under the Obama administration. He suggested that everyone put the 2017 appropriation bill to rest, as there are only four months left in the fiscal year. He said that the discussion on the 2018 spending bill starts now, and that funding for the wall would not come in a single year. If the 2018 bill goes as Trump plans, the frustrations of this bill will be temporary. As Sean Spicer said in the May 1 press briefing, “Make no mistake, this wall’s going to be built.”