Will the Government Shut Down in October?

Stan Collender, who is one of the best analysts on the congressional budgeting process, has put up a doomsday clock at his blog. It says that the Republicans have 69 days left before the government shuts down again, but the real number is less than half of that when you take into account weekends, vacations, and days when no votes are scheduled. He puts the odds of a October 1st shutdown at 60 percent.

At least part of Collender’s reasoning is based on his assessment that the Republicans might actually want a government shutdown controversy leading into the early midterm voting period. I am not so sure.

While it’s true that President Trump may want to make good on his promise to veto any spending bill (whether an omnibus or a continuing resolution) that doesn’t include money for his wall, and it’s true that this could motivate and mobilize the anti-immigrant Republican base, a shutdown would be unhelpful in several ways.

Most obviously, if incumbents are stuck in DC haggling over appropriations then they can’t be in their districts defending against a wave of heavily funded and highly motivated challengers. Then there’s the fact that a government shutdown is by its nature a dispute between Congress and the White House, and that would pit the most popular Republican (sadly, Donald Trump) against his own congressional majorities. If they can’t deliver what he wants, then they’re the problem. And if the Republican majority-led Congress is the problem leading into the voting period, it’s unclear that the base’s response to that will be to race out to vote for their incumbent member of Congress.

Naturally, the idea would be to blame everything on pro-immigrant, pro-amnesty, pro-gang, pro-crime Democrats who won’t compromise, and that might work fairly well for some of the Senate races where Democratic incumbents are running for reelection in very Trump-friendly states. In general, though, it would probably work against House Republican incumbents too. Finally, I think it’s a stretch to think that a very public display of governmental dysfunction is a good way to convince persuadable people to reelect their representatives.

As it is, the House has planned to use a big chunk of September trying to pass more tax cuts that will never get through a Senate otherwise occupied:

As I posted several days ago, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) has let it be known that the House will debate three tax cut bills even though they have no chance of being enacted. Meanwhile, the Senate is very likely to be tied up for days that month trying to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

The Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings and votes are the last big hope for mobilizing the Republican base and that may not work out too great either. If they succeed in confirming him then the base may go into a post-coital slumber. I guess the hope is that they’ll be feeling so good about the conservative Supreme Court that they’ll walk on air to the polls. There’s a danger that they’ll see the main goal as accomplished and be less inclined to show support for a party that has a thousand and one problems.

If they don’t confirm him or the vote is still hanging out there when people vote, it will be the Democrats who are highly motivated and mobilized. We’ve already seen support for Roe v. Wade reach new heights.

A new poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal finds that 71 percent of American voters believe that the decision, which established a woman’s legal right to an abortion, should not be overturned. Just 23 percent say the ruling should be reversed.

That’s the highest level of support for the decision — and the lowest share of voters who want Roe v. Wade overturned — in the poll’s history dating back to 2005. In 1989, according to Gallup’s survey, 58 percent said they believed it should stay in place while 31 percent disagreed.

In what is already shaping up to be a huge year for women (e.g., Nevada may elect the nation’s first female-majority state legislature), it’s far from certain that making abortion rights a live issue in the voting window is going to redound to the Republicans’ benefit.

It’s probably better for the Republicans if Kavanaugh is confirmed before the voting because it will have a demoralizing effect on the left, plus having the vote will put vulnerable Senate Democrats in a bad spot. If they vote for Kavanaugh, they’ll lose support from their base. If they vote against him, they’ll give the Republican voters who predominate in their states a good reason to toss them out.

On the whole, though, the confirmation process for Kavanaugh is not going to be a boon to the GOP if 71 percent of Americans would like to see abortion rights preserved. This seems to be a case of the dog catching the car at the same moment the people are going to the polls.  I’d call that bad timing.

Having a government shutdown in this political environment doesn’t seem like something congressional Republicans will want. I’d expect them to push things through to past the election with a continuing resolution and promise to pass spending bills in the lame duck session if they lose control of either chamber of Congress. They’ll have to convince Trump to go along with that, however, and he may not care what the House Republicans think they need. You’d think that he’d be keen to help them since his political future may depend on their success, but he’s unpredictable and he may be unwilling to break his pledge to fight for his wall.

A 60 percent chance of a shutdown seems a little high to me, but it all depends on Trump. Will he want as many distractions as possible in October? Giving where the Mueller probe is likely to be at that point, it’s definitely possible. Yet, at the same time, I expect Mueller to make most of his movements in August so that there can be a little hiatus of activity during the voting period.

All I can predict with certainty is that the insanity we’re all experiencing will be elevated to levels we have never seen between now and Election Day.

Martin Longman

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