Trump May Need A Government Shutdown This Week...And Other Shutdown News

Jan 15, 2018 @ 09:00 AM
Stan Collender , Contributor
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

If Congress and the White House don't come to some kind of agreement on fiscal 2018 funding by this Friday at midnight, the federal government will turn into a pumpkin and most services will immediately cease.

Here are the four things you need to keep in mind as events unfold over the next five days.

1. Trump May Need A Shutdown. Technically, a shutdown will occur because the legal authority for the government to spend money will expire. In reality, however, the real reason will be that someone involved in the negotiations will view this as an opportunity to be seen as a political badass by his, her or their base.

This week, Donald Trump is most likely to be that person.

Given the various firestorms that have occured just this past week -- the book, the remark about Haiti and African countries and the hush money paid to a porn star -- Trump may want to reassure his base that he is still very much in charge by refusing to sign even a simple, clean and short-term extension of the current continuing resolution. Even if it doesn't include anything about immigration, Trump could still demand funding for his wall and say he is more than willing to shut down the government until he gets it.

Trump would say this shows he is indeed the toughest of negotiators, that he's still determined to protect the U.S. and that he's keeping his campaign promises. All of these would be red meat for the Trump base and, in the White House's mind, would move the narrative away from the book, the remark and the porn star to something politically positive.

2. This First Trump Shutdown Might Only Last Two Days. Yes, most government services would stop Friday night at midnight. But unless Trump decided to do something extraordinary like shutting the air traffic control system, the only real direct impact over the weekend would be on the very few people trying to use the suddenly closed national parks.The positive political impact Trump would be seeking from the shutdown would be immediate, however.For that reason, if there is a Trump-induced shutdown this week, it wouldn't be at all surprising if it only lasted until next Monday. Trump would then tell Congress he will sign a short-term CR to reopen the government because (regardless of whether or not it was true) there was progress made over the weekend. He would also at least hint that he'll shut the government again in the future if that's what it will take to get what he wants.

3. The President Is The Only One Who Decides Whether The Military Works During A Shutdown. Trump has been tweeting that the Democrats want to deny funding for the Pentagon during a shutdown. He's wrong in a variety of ways.

First, there is no funding for anyone during a government shutdown. Social Security and other mandatory program benefits are sent, but anything that requires an appropriation stops immediately. That includes pay for military and civilian workers. In other words, if the government shuts its doors because of a presidential veto, Trump will be the one that is preventing the military from being paid.

Second, the president and not Congress has the sole authority to determine which federal services are "essential" and will continue during a shutdown. Presumably that will include the Pentagon, air traffic controllers, the Transportation Security Agency, most of the Department of Homeland Security and even something as pedestrian as the people who feed the animals at the National Zoo. These functions will stop only if Trump decides they should.

4. Everyone And No One Will Get Blamed. There will be no commonly accepted answer to the question of who will get blamed and suffer the most if there's a shutdown this week. Trump will blame the Democrats in Congress, Democrats will blame Trump and the Republican House and Senate majorities and Republicans will blame the Democrats.

As much as they might like to do so, none of these groups will be trying to establish a universally accepted truth on this question. They will all just be talking to their own voters.

This will be the case even if there's a simple and obvious reason -- like a Trump veto -- for the shutdown. Trump will still blame the Democrats in Congress for forcing his hand while Democrats will blame Trump for not signing a CR that had bipartisan support.