September Will Be a Meat-Grinder

Lindsey McPherson at Roll Call does a nice job of laying things out for you so you can begin to get a sense of the challenges Donald Trump and congressional Republicans will be facing when they return from vacation. As of now, there will be only twelve days in September when the House and Senate are jointly in session. The Senate has a few more legislative days on their schedule than the House, and they’ll surely need them.

I’ve written a lot about the debt ceiling, which needs to be raised by September 29th to avoid a default, and the appropriations bills, which need to be passed by September 30th to avoid a government shutdown. Twelve legislative days in the House and a few more in the Senate might be adequate to handle those two pressing issues, but Congress also has to reauthorize spending for the Federal Aviation Administration, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the National Flood Insurance Program before they expire on September 30th. As I’ve mentioned, if they want tax reform, they need a new budget resolution. Somewhere in all of this, they need to figure out if they can reset the sequester so that they can fund Trump’s larger navy or get some funds for the border wall Mexico is supposed to be financing. Any change in the sequester’s spending caps would require a separate bill to amend the old Budget Act.

If you think the Republicans have a plan for accomplishing this all in the time allotted, you’re quite mistaken. If anything, their plan is to ignore the committee work that has been done on the FAA, CHIP and Flood insurance and just punt by just passing short-term reauthorizations. The same will probably be the solution for the appropriations bills. Some kind of continuing resolution will be attempted that buys them time, although it’s uncertain that they could succeed in passing one. Weird, desperate ideas are cropping up:

Since the Republicans’ failure to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law, some lawmakers have discussed using the CHIP reauthorization as a vehicle for policy changes needed to help stabilize the health insurance market.

Some Senate aides have said CHIP could be used as a medium for raising the debt ceiling.

Maybe Paul Ryan can scare up some Republican debt ceiling votes by tying it to children’s health?

The Republicans are completely unprepared to deal with any of this. Their members and surrogates aren’t even using the same hymn book as their leadership:

“The debt ceiling increase needs to be accompanied by reforms to address the problems that cause it,” Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker said in an op-ed earlier this month in The Washington Examiner. “We can’t afford to kick this can down the road. Otherwise, Republicans lose credibility the next time we point out (as we often do) that the national debt is a serious problem.”

Walker said a clean debt ceiling increase appears to lack the needed support, increasing the likelihood that “congressional leaders load it up with even more increased spending and must-pass legislation to attract the necessary votes.”

“Historically, this is done by reaching across the aisle to produce a bill that is as unsavory politically as it is fiscally,” the North Carolina Republican added.

Outside conservative groups are also opposed to a clean debt ceiling increase.

Jason Pye, vice president of legislative affairs for FreedomWorks, said his group is still formulating specific asks but noted that any increase should be paired with “spending reductions or some sort of re-prioritization of payments.”

They still won’t accept the fact that the leadership can’t accomplish any of this without Democratic votes, either because of the Senate filibuster or because the Republicans in both the House and Senate cannot agree among themselves. As for the leadership, they are also in denial:

Given the conservatives’ position against a clean debt limit increase, GOP leaders would need a lot of Democratic support if they tried to push one through.

A House Democratic leadership aide said there’s been no outreach from the Republicans or the White House on the debt ceiling or an appropriations package for funding the government.

A total lack of preparation combined with completely unrealistic expectations and an incredibly small number of legislative days all adds up to a complete shipwreck. We shouldn’t particularly care or sympathize about much of this since it stands to politically benefit the left. But a needless default on our credit rating could cause a global recession that will hurt millions, and even a partial and temporary government shutdown will be costly and dangerous for some of our more vulnerable citizens. A non-functional FAA is a perilous thing, and a disruption of the flood insurance market is not something we should want to see. Kids who lose access to health care, even if for only a few days, will be put at risk.

Moreover, at the end of all of this, even if it goes better than expected, there will be no tax reform, no infrastructure bill, and no spending authorized for a border wall. There will be no Obamacare repeal.

It will be very difficult to blame these failures on the Democrats. Trump will blame Congress which is led by his own party. If the Democrats are brought in to save the day, that will cause a massive rupture on the right with messy infighting led by a newly liberated Steve Bannon. If we default and/or the government shuts down, the blame for the consequences will fall squarely on those in position of powers who happen to all be Republicans.

Most of all, though, Trump will take the blame. And while he might win in a fight with an even more unpopular Republican congressional leadership for sympathy from the base, that won’t put any genuine wins on the board for him. In fact, it will only make Republicans in Congress more eager to be rid of him.

It’s going to be a meat-grinder, and let’s just hope we don’t have natural disasters or foreign policy fiascos to add into the mix.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.