All the elements of a debacle will be in place next week when congressional authorization expires for financing the U.S. government.
Lawmakers, on recess now, will have only four days to iron out a deal. Right-wing Republicans see a chance to enact abortion curbs and anti-immigrant measures that opponents won’t countenance. Democrats are in no mood to offer concessions. And the administration of President Donald Trump has trouble getting its act together.
Sound like a government shutdown in the making? It’s very unlikely.
Funding for the government will expire on April 28 without congressional action. The odds are that there will be a one- or two-week extension, with the battle joined and probably resolved by mid-May.
Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, has insisted that a spending bill for the upcoming year must include money for the Trump’s proposed wall along the Mexican border, and must cut off funds to cities that don’t cooperate with Washington in cracking down on undocumented workers. These measures, or big cuts in current spending, won’t fly with Democrats.
That means they’re likely to be dropped, as it is not in the political interest of Trump or Republican congressional leaders to provoke a crisis. That goes double after the collapse of their health-care plan last month.
“With a Republican House, Republican Senate and Republican administration, we don’t want to stumble into a shutdown,” said Representative Tom Cole, a senior Oklahoma Republican who is close to the House leadership.
That doesn’t mean that deliberations will go smoothly next week. Congressional appropriators have been working in a relatively bipartisan way to fashion a spending plan that can win majority support, but little of their handiwork has been taken to the rank-and-file of either party.
The far-right House Republican freedom caucus of about three-dozen members, emboldened by their success in killing the Obamacare replacement bill advocated by Trump and the party leadership, won’t settle easily. Lacking their support, House Speaker Paul Ryan may be forced to cut a deal with Democrats, something House leaders have been loath to do.
In the Senate, Democrats have to be included in any funding agreement. That’s because filibuster rules mean that most spending legislation can’t pass without 60 votes. There are 52 Republican senators.
Democrats may try to bargain for preserving the insurance subsidies for low-income people that are provided by Obamacare. Trump has threatened to use this as leverage to force Democrats to agree to other Republican health-care proposals. The mere threat of cutting off these funds, some industry experts say, could wreak havoc on health-insurance markets.
Because Trump probably is bluffing, some accord is likely on this matter.
There already are a few bipartisan deals in the works: a little more money for the National Institutes of Health, and more pension and health-care funding for retired miners espoused by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, an embattled Democrat up for re-election next year. There even could be a sop to Trump, with money directed at the Department of Homeland Security but not earmarked for a border wall.
The April 28 cutoff date was set in December by Republicans once they knew they would control the government in 2017. At the time, they thought the Trump administration would need just 100 days to reorder government priorities. It didn’t work out that way. So now they just want to get past it.
Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. Readers may email him at email@example.com.