Is a government shutdown the solution?


It may take a government shutdown Friday night to force a solution to all of this.

That’s the sense several members of Congress from both sides of the aisle expressed to Fox News over the weekend as lawmakers and the Trump administration find themselves at odds over government funding and DACA for the fourth time since September.

Here’s the shorthand:

Government operations funding ceases at 11:59:59 p.m. ET Friday night. The federal government will close on January 20 – the one-year anniversary of President Trump taking office – if Congress fails to cough up a fourth version of an interim spending plan this week. Congress has punted on a long-term solution to run the government since mid-September and again twice just before the holidays. That’s why it gurgles ahead now.

The issues: 

Republicans insist on bolstering Pentagon spending. In exchange, Democrats demand an increase in non-defense spending. The administration intends to marshal $18 billion for a border wall security system. But the most nettlesome complication? DACA and what to do about hundreds of thousands of people brought here to the U.S. by their parents when they were just children.

The coalitions on each of these issues are so torturously tangled that there may not be a way to find a compromise on anything which secures enough votes to avert a government shutdown.

Can President Trump close a deal to avoid a shutdown in the coming days?

How challenging is this?

Double black diamonds mark the most difficult terrain at Alpine ski resorts. This parliamentary piste is triple or quadruple black diamond.

If this were auto racing, it would be like approaching Turn 3 at Darlington and then zooming immediately into Turn 1 at Indianapolis.

Ten for a level of difficulty on this conundrum? Even the amps from Spinal Tap don’t go this high.

Here’s the problem: Trump and many congressional Republicans fear a backlash from their base if they cede ground on DACA. GOP leaders insist they should address the DACA issue separately from an emergency spending bill. That’s not so much a message to Democrats as it is to Republicans. The GOP brass knows merging the two issues does them no favors, tempting skeptical Republicans to balk. Republicans hold majorities in both the House and Senate. They need buy-in from at least nine Democrats to reach 60 votes in the Senate and break a filibuster. But it’s not clear that Republicans could even secure basic majorities from their own sides on a simple bill just to re-up all funding by Friday.

House Republicans huddle tonight in the basement of the Capitol to consider options. Fox News is told GOP leaders will beseech their members to approve yet another stopgap spending bill with little in return.

What is in it for any rank-and-file Republican to do that?

A host of Republicans support DACA. But many of them are hard-pressed to vote yes on another temporary plan without a clear path on DACA. Then there are those arguing for fortified defense spending. Why would they support the status quo? Others want the wall. There certainly wouldn’t be a wall in that caretaker spending plan. There are deficit hawks who don’t see any action whatsoever when it comes to reducing the deficit. Some are concerned about the status of an $81 billion disaster relief bill which the House approved in December for Florida, Texas, California, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Senate has yet to address that plan, nearly a full month after the House OK’d its version of the package.

Vote for another provisional spending bill just to keep the federal lights on?

It’s enough to make some lawmakers want to swallow a Tide pod.

DACA may be the thorniest burr in the congressional saddle now. But the most pressing issue is simple math: the vote count to avoid a government shutdown. There seem to be just enough divisions among members on just enough issues to absorb the yeas needed to keep the government open.

Consider the vote on December 7 to avoid a government shutdown. That was the second of three emergency spending bills Congress approved. The House OK’d the plan 235 to 193. There were 18 GOP nays. Fourteen Democrats voted yes – but only after Republicans recorded enough yeas to carry the bill themselves. 

Former Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, just resigned from the House yesterday. He was a yes. Former Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., is gone, too. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., is still recuperating from surgery. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., won’t vote yea for another temporary bill without a DACA fix. The current breakdown in the House is 238 Republicans to 193 Democrats. That means Republicans can only afford to lose 23 of their own. Without a DACA agreement which would court Democrats, Republicans are right on the cusp.

Fox is told the sides appear close to a pact on spending numbers for the Pentagon and non-defense programs. Such a deal would lift mandatory spending restrictions – known as sequestration and imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA), which lifted the debt ceiling. 

But DACA haunts all. 

Can President Trump close a deal to avoid a shutdown in the coming days? It depends on which president shows up. Is it the gregarious, genial one at the bipartisan, bicameral meeting on DACA last Tuesday? Or the potty-mouthed one who materialized last Thursday? 

Can GOP leaders coax their members to vote yes on yet another feeble bill just to avoid a government shutdown? And even if there is an agreement, how do Republicans feel about things? Democrats likely get what they want in non-defense spending and DACA. 

Lawmakers could approve a short-term plan by Friday if the sides feel there is a deal in hand on DACA and the spending numbers. Crafting that package will require time on both the spending and DACA side.

Something could force the hand of lawmakers to get a deal if they can’t work it out by Friday: a government shutdown. No one wants it. But a dramatic event like that may be what they need to break the impasse.