Republicans have been warned: Any attempt to fund the southern border wall could lead to a government shutdown fight in Congress.
Democrats may not have control of the House or the Senate, but when it comes to appropriating funds for the border wall, they have leverage. Congress needs to pass the appropriations bills by April 28 to keep the government open. Democrats can block the Department of Homeland Security funding in a filibuster. A delay that lasts beyond April 28 will lead to a shutdown of the department.
On Wednesday, one senior GOP congressional aide told Politico a shutdown fight “looks like it probably is going to happen."
The White House is expected to ask Congress for supplemental funding on Thursday to begin construction on the border wall between the US and Mexico. Reportedly, the supplemental budget request will only be for a fraction of the estimated price tag, which ranges anywhere from $13 billion to $21 billion.
Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and fellow Senate leaders told Republicans that any attempt to pass funding for the border wall in the 2017 appropriations bill would be met with unified Democratic resistance.
“We believe it would be inappropriate to insist on the inclusion of such funding in a must-pass appropriations bill that is needed for the Republican majority in control of the Congress to avert a government shutdown so early in President Trump’s Administration,” the Senate Democratic leadership team wrote in a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on March 13.
Unlike the American Health Care Act and President Trump’s Cabinet confirmations, which only needed a simple majority of 51 votes, Republican senators will need 60 votes to end debate on the appropriations bill and get it passed — which means they need to get their party in line and eight Democrats on their side.
Schumer says that’s not going to happen. Even some Republicans have suggested they might defect.
Members of both parties are skeptical of funding the wall
Appropriation fights come to the brink of government shutdown often; it happened as recently as December 2016, when Democrats threatened to prompt a shutdown if Republicans didn’t pass the Miners Protection Act, which would have guarded former miners’ health care and benefits. It was just a threat — the Democrats didn’t have any intention of causing a federal shutdown.
That doesn’t make the funding for the wall safe. There are some hints from Capitol Hill that Democrats might not be alone in this stand against the wall.
So far, every cost estimate of the construction has shown the wall will be expensive and difficult to build. A specific price tag and building plan have yet to be announced, and the White House is still requesting proposals. This initial funding request is meant to start the process and buy some time to work out the rest of the plan.
But the strategy — fund now, figure out the rest later — has not convinced some conservative budget hawks.
"I prefer to see a plan first before we start appropriating money,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told Politico. "We won't just appropriate money and have the plan TBD. And I've got some questions.”
One of those questions for Republicans is where the money will be coming from.
“I generally don’t vote for anything that’s not offset,” Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) told Fox News in January. “Everything needs an offset.” In other words, increasing spending on the wall will require cuts somewhere else.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, who once led the budget hawks in the House Budget Committee, has framed this as a “national security issue,” in order to reconcile his fiscal conservatism and the president’s wishes. He has been adamant that the Republican Party will stay unified on the issue.
“[The wall] is something we want to get on right away,” Ryan said at a Politico Playbook event in January. “It’s a promise we are going to help [Trump] keep.”
Whether senators faced with the possible shutdown of DHS will agree when it all comes to a head in April might indicate the vulnerability of Trump’s proposals in Congress.