The government spending deal just reached in Congress isn’t some enormous triumph of progressive politics, but with the exception of a boost in military spending it didn’t include many of Donald Trump’s various campaign promises or budget proposals. Since Trump himself is frequently disengaged with policy issues, it’s not entirely clear that he recognized this is what was happening while the dealmaking was taking place.
But once the deal was reached, coverage of it inevitably trickled out onto cable news, the president’s chosen source of political information. So it’s no surprise that he’s reacting somewhat defensively on Tuesday to the scale of his defeat.
On one level, his message is pretty banal — the right would make more progress in budget negotiations if Congress had even more Republicans. But he also threw in what looks like a surprising call for Republicans to take a tougher line next fall when this round of appropriations expires and threaten a government shutdown unless they get their way.
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....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 2, 2017
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 2, 2017
Trump is, I think, somewhat misstating his dilemma. It’s true that part of the issue is the filibuster rule means that Republicans need to craft a spending bill that at least eight Senate Democrats will agree to. The bigger issue, however, is that a substantial chorus of right-wing House Republicans will defect from any deal that is moderate enough to gain the votes of eight Senate Democrats. That means that to pass a spending bill needs not just the votes of Senate Democrats (many of whom are pretty moderate) but also of House Democrats who are overwhelmingly liberal. That puts the GOP leadership in a surprisingly weak negotiating position for a party with concurrent majorities.
The second complication is precisely the shutdown point that Trump raises.
Generally speaking, the voters hold the party in the White House responsible for the state of the world. That’s even more so when that same party controls both houses of Congress. So for Republicans to draw such a hard line that they provoke a government shutdown would be to tempt a serious backlash. Ordinary people would face disruptions and annoyances in their lives, and Republicans would take the blame for being unable to govern.
Prompting a shutdown over unpopular ideas like barring federal money from paying for non-abortion services at Planned Parenthood or drastically cutting science research funding would be particularly problematic. As is often the case with Trump, there’s little reason to actually take this not-particularly-credible shutdown threat seriously. But he did say it, and it’s always at least possible that he means what he says, in which case congressional Republicans could find themselves in a nasty jam come this fall.