Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Listen: the budget fight is going to be ugly.

The schedule for Congress when they return in September is absurd.  According the the Senate and House calendars, during September they will be in session in the House for 12 days, and in the Senate for 17.  In that time, they will need to tackle the government debt limit, the budget, and the expiration of S-CHIP (a huge children's healthcare bill).  Two of these goals are big, but probably will get done:

S-CHIP:  This will almost certainly be repealed with a big bipartisan vote.  It will take a bit of time, but they can do this.  There's been some talk of trying to package an Obamacare repeal with this bill, but GOP leadership will probably kill that (because it's an insane and dumb idea).  So far, so good.

Government Debt Limit: The government already spent this money, and now the bill has come due.  Most of the adults in the room know this already, but it's served as a convenient way for raucous back-benchers in the both parties to make noise.  GOP leadership wants a clean bill (just raising the debt limit, nothing else), but hyper-conservatives in the House are insisting on cuts to major programs before they'll agree.  Democrats have often helped out Republican leaders to get this passed, but first they want assurances that it won't just pave the way for a tax-cut bill.  No agreement on this yet, not even in principle, but a clean bill will probably get done.  It's just a question of how much time it consumes.

The third goal, the budget... that's a different story.

A budget was already passed at the beginning of May, and the Republicans got rolled at the negotiating table.  There was no money for a wall, no draconian cuts to domestic programs or the EPA, and no defunding of Planned Parenthood or arts programs.  There was money for opioids, the Biden cancer research "moonshot," Puerto Rico, and coal miner pensions.

The May budget barely winked at Trump's priorities.  I could hardly believe it, and wondered if he would even sign it.  I wrote then, though, that "[t]he most likely thing is that they pass the bill and then engage in some frenzied spin, proclaiming it a victory, and then push for a more Trumpy budget" later.

Sure enough:
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney made the White House’s most forceful case yet that the bipartisan budget deal amounted to a major win for the White House and a loss for Democrats.
One senior administration official said Trump was “not happy” as he watched Democrats claim victory in the budget negotiations, and a second senior administration official said Trump was baffled that Democrats felt they could claim victory.
Trump was so unhappy at getting rolled, in fact, that he tweeted:
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!
We're almost to September, and the White House is trying to make sure it doesn't get cleaned out at the negotiating table a second time.
The White House is pushing a deal on Capitol Hill to head off a government shutdown that would lift strict spending caps long opposed by Democrats in exchange for money for President Donald Trump’s border wall with Mexico, multiple sources said. ... [T]he White House is insisting on a down payment for construction this fall. ... The White House is offering Democrats more funding for their own pet projects in return for allowing construction to move ahead on a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border — though perhaps not the "big, beautiful wall" with solar panels that Trump has long promised.
Because Republicans want to raise military spending, they need 60 votes to do it (for complicated reasons involving the "sequester" of yesteryear... remember that?)  And in exchange, they're offering Democrats more money for domestic programs.  I haven't been able to find details about the offerings, but we can suspect they will include more money for the opioid crisis, some amelioration of planned cuts to the EPA and arts, and so on.  In exchange, they want 8 Democrats (or more, if there are any GOP defections -- looking at you, Rand Paul!) to agree to jack up defense spending and fund a border wall.

In January, Democrats would have begged for this deal.  Even in February or March, after the Muslim ban and a host of other outrages had enraged the Democratic base into near-apoplexy, Democrats would have agreed to this deal.  I'm surprising this wasn't the substance of the May budget, in fact.  Everyone was freaking out and Democratic leaders were looking into an abyss -- I thought they would cave.  They didn't (thanks, Chuck and Nancy!).

But in September?  The president has a 37% approval rating in the country -- that's bad enough! -- but something like an 8% approval rating among Democrats.  He's toxic, and so is his border wall proposal.

I can count maybe five Democrats who might vote for a budget that funds a border wall.  Tester, Heitkamp, Manchin, Donnelly, and McCaskill are all up for re-election in red states.  That's pretty close, so this isn't impossible.  But there are just so many problems with getting this deal done.

  • Democrats have mostly hung tough.  In the Senate, they have stayed united -- unbelievably and amazingly so.  There's not much reason for them to cave here, when they didn't cave on Obamacare repeal.
  • A shutdown helps Democrats and hurts Republicans.  As Mitch McConnell taught us all, voters blame the president's party for everything.  A shutdown will just perpetuate the current narrative -- a feckless GOP, ineffective leadership, and chaotic president.  It will look weak and chaotic, and it will provide endless opportunities for the press to report on the collateral damage.
  • Republicans are desperate.  And everyone knows it.  It's really, really hard to negotiate when you desperately and obviously want something -- and when you don't have much to offer in the way of payment or threats.
  • Stalemate or failure will badly hurt the GOP.  They don't want to kick the can down the road.  They can pass a short continuing resolution, so they can keep negotiating in October, but not much further.  Why not?  They need to get this done if they want to have a chance to pass tax cuts for the rich.  And that is their raison d'√™tre.
  • Trump doesn't care about any of the above.  And he'll probably veto a budget that he doesn't like, especially if it doesn't have money for a wall.

I'm not a master of the "art of the deal."  But it seems like this isn't going to get done, unless there are some big surprises in the wings.

Prediction (with low confidence due to insufficient data at this time): I would guess that our end result will be a pretty bad budget with no funding for a border wall (but even more funding that's tangentially related to border security).  And I would further guess that the odds are even, whatever the outcome, that a shutdown will happen along the way.

No comments:

Post a Comment