• Abiye Alamina

Government Shutdown Again? Nah

Updated: Feb 2, 2019


Today as Congressional talks on the border wall continue but look unlikely to produce the $5.7 billion funding the President has asked for I am going out on a limb to say that I do not see any shutdown in the near future as a result of what will likely still remain an impasse.



To end the last shutdown, which cost the economy about $3 billion in unrecoverable losses and a lot of untold hardship and inconveniences to affected federal workers and many others whose livelihoods are based on interacting with those government agencies that were closed, the President raised the specter of another shutdown if within three weeks Congress could not etch out a deal that included the border wall funding.


Well, it is very unlikely that this will happen.



The Midterm Elections Mandate


In the minds of the Democratic lawmakers the outcomes of the midterm elections, which turned over the leadership in the House to them, was not a vote to go to Washington and negotiate with the President, but rather to restore the legislative restraint on the exercise of perceived unchecked executive power.


To be sure, there is no deal that provides the Democrats with any concessions on their preferred policies which includes the border wall funding that will not be seen entirely as a win for the President and a boost to his 2020 run. If with a divided government and a polarized electorate he can still get his pet projects passed then he is, colloquially speaking, the Man. This is obviously anathema to the Democratic base and with the current flurry of candidates looking to run against Trump in 2020, Democratic party lawmakers understand that compromising to give Trump any win may be costly in terms of their own seats.



Trump's strategy: stoop to conquer


So the question then becomes, will Trump follow through and shut the government down again? In game theoretic language, is that a credible threat? At some level one would think it is. It appears to be his policy to take hardline positions against seeming odds and to persist even when the odds start to materialize. Another case in point are the tariff policies and resulting trade war with China. He still insists that we are winning.


Federal workers are back to work, they have received (or will receive) their back pay, things will have cooled down a bit, so perhaps he may go ahead and shutdown the government again, and let it all play out again, hoping for a different outcome when Democrats see his persistence. Trump clearly entered the end game on this border wall issue when he backed down, and with the conditions he made clear, he may have actually stooped to conquer. The hardcore Republican voting base that he has held together and which the GOP lawmakers fear offending are behind him and some were indeed disappointed when he backed down. Polls also suggest that close to half of all Americans are in favor of a border wall. He therefore has every incentive to go all out, notwithstanding the costs.



Senate Republicans in a bind


The question though is, in order to hold the Senate GOP line firmly behind him, can the blame for any such shutdown be placed squarely on the Democrats? Here is where the problem lies. Can GOP Senators look their constituents in the eye and say that this second round of hostage taking of federal workers is the doing of the Democrats? That would be a tough, if not impossible sell, especially since the Democrats have been very clear in speaking for border security and border security measures, but not the $5.7 billion wall (steel barrier) funding. Besides and equally important are the jobs numbers just released today for the month of January which show an uptick in the unemployment rate to 4%, and this owing to the government shutdown.


So the President risks the Senate GOP failing to hold the line should he follow through on the shutdown threat. He is therefore more likely to seek out other options including declaring a national state of emergency along the southern border and use his executive powers to force the issue. He continues to state his willingness and ability to do this and at present he has nothing to lose by doing so.


It looks like a no brainer


Prediction: No immediate government shutdown, but instead some other executive related action to try to get the funding for the border wall.

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