Mick Mulvaney
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

President Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney is displaying a pre-Katrina level of complacency about whether his boss’s hundredth day in office will coincide with a shutdown of the government due to lack of congressionally-approved funding.

Lawmakers are on recess for Easter, set to return four days before current funding runs out at the end of the month.

Despite the short timeline and the disparate positions of the White House and Congress, Mulvaney does not anticipate a shutdown, recently telling CNBC’s John Harwood that chances of a shutdown are “very low” and that he has not yet instructed federal agencies to make preparations for one.

“I don’t see the need to, to be honest with you,” he said. “So we’ve gone to the appropriators and said, ‘Look, if you all can figure out a way to do this, let’s do it together.’ Shutdown is never a desired end.”

Even if lawmakers don’t reach a deal in time, Mulvaney said he does not foresee significant problems in the event of a temporary lapse.

“It’s happened 17 times between 1976 and 1994. Those lapses in funding used to be fairly typical,” he said. “I think the government, if you measure it in terms of the dollars out the door, about 83 percent of the government stays open in a government shutdown. Social Security checks go out, military still exists. The FBI still chases bad guys. I think the consequences have been blown out of proportion.”

Let’s all save those quotes and see how they pan out. If there is a government shutdown on President Trump’s 100th Day anniversary, Mulvaney is going to look pretty stupid. When people are inconvenienced because no preparations have been made by our government agencies, he’s going to look just like Michael “Heck of a Job” Brown, the Arabian horse commissioner who botched FEMA’s pre-planning and response to the hurricane that drowned New Orleans in 2005.

Earlier in this same article, it’s reported that “Mulvaney has…told lawmakers the White House wants to see the must-pass spending bill restrict funding to cities that have sanctuary policies limiting cooperation with federal officials on immigration enforcement.” If that’s true, the Democrats won’t vote for it. They won’t vote for any funding of a border wall either.

Congressional Republicans are now habitually inclined to use must-pass bills to force through provisions (free riders) that cannot pass through Congress under ordinary circumstances. The Democrats aren’t going to supply votes to abolish Planned Parenthood or fulfill some of the other fever dream desires of the hard right, so unless the Republican leadership can keep these riders out, they’ll need to find their own votes to keep the government open. But many conservatives are not inclined to vote for bills that will increase the deficit or even fund the government in a neutral way if the funding doesn’t include some of these spoils.

In other words, give me a recent example of the Republicans managing to keep the government open or pay our debts on time that didn’t depend heavily on Democratic votes!

They thought they could pass their health care reform bill with only Republican votes, too, and look how that worked out.

Under the circumstances, a rational person in a position of responsibility would have contingency plans for a government shutdown, and they certainly wouldn’t fail to prepare if they were simultaneously advising their allies in Congress to defund most major cities in the country, all of which are mostly represented by the political opposition.

But Mulvaney doesn’t seem to be rational.

Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, is pressing lawmakers to include language to restrict federal funding grants for cities that do not enforce federal immigration policies. The goal is to bring the House Freedom Caucus on board with a government funding bill, according to Capitol Hill Republicans — or at least show that the administration is courting the support of the hard-right and pushing GOP leaders to adopt Trump’s priorities.

But the effort by Mulvaney, a former conservative congressman from South Carolina, threatens to disrupt bipartisan negotiations on funding the government. Democrats are already calling a request for border wall money a “poison pill” that would shut down the government. An attempt to block liberal cities from receiving federal funds if they ignore immigration guidance would similarly cause Democrats to flee.

What if, on the other hand, Mulvaney is posturing? What if his position that a government shutdown isn’t really a big deal is just pre-spin for a shutdown that he’s actually anticipating? They’ll want to tell us that it isn’t a crisis or much of a failure, but they’ll also want to find a way to at least attempt to blame the Democrats (they’re protecting illegal immigrants!). They’ll even be able to blame the Freedom Caucus by saying that they offered them the sanctuary thing and they still didn’t vote for it.

This doesn’t seem like it will be very effective because the Republicans control everything and the buck stops with the president, but it makes more strategic sense if it’s a plan for spinning failure than a plan to actually avoid a government shutdown.

Don’t you think?

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com