The federal government, yet again, is on the verge of a shutdown.
OK, Congress gave itself a two-week reprieve, moving the deadline to pass a spending bill to the Friday before Christmas.
That would be a spending bill for the rest of the fiscal year that started Oct. 1 — 69 days ago if you’re counting.
President Donald Trump is blaming congressional Democrats, but he started talking enthusiastically about a government shutdown more than six months ago.
In May, he tweeted, “Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!” In August, speaking at a rally in Phoenix, he said, “If we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall.”
On Nov. 30, the Washington Post reported that Trump had told confidants a government shutdown might be good for him politically, and a hard line on immigration could win back supporters angered by his cooperation with Democrats (remember his dalliance with “Chuck and Nancy” on the debt ceiling earlier this year?).
That may shed some light on Trump’s remarks earlier this week: “Democrats are really looking at something very dangerous for our country. They are looking at shutting down, they want to have illegal immigrants, in many cases people that we don’t want in our country. We don’t want to have that, we want to have a great, beautiful, crime-free country.”
Fortunately, the leaders of his own party on Capitol Hill see no benefit in a shutdown that would disrupt public services and result in holiday layoffs for hundreds of thousands of Americans who earn a living working for the federal government.
But the path to an agreement is complicated by multiple issues, including how to finesse spending caps that Congress imposed on itself in 2013. Republicans want to waive the cap to allow more defense spending, Democrats are demanding an equivalent increase in domestic spending, and both parties want to boost hurricane relief efforts. Funding for wildfire relief has been inexplicably left out over the objection of the California delegation.
If history is any guide, an eventual deal will include added spending for defense, nondefense and relief programs — and a solemn promise to address the deficit … later.
A compromise on immigration may prove more difficult.
In September, when Trump announced plans to suspend the DACA program, which shields undocumented immigrants brought here as children from deportation, he called on Congress to solve the problem within six months.
DACA has widespread public support, and many Democrats, and a growing number of Republicans, want to write it into federal law before the end of the year, using the spending bill. Trump, Politico reported Thursday, doesn’t want DACA in the spending bill but is pushing to include funding for a wall along the length of the U.S.-Mexico border.
It seems as if, given the choice between following through on his call for a DACA fix and picking a fight about immigration at a time when federal authorities say illegal border crossings are way down, Trump’s is prepared to abandon hundreds of thousands of law-abiding young people who have lived most of their lives in the United States.
Surprised? Neither are we.