Trump team downplays risk of shutdown
Contingency plans ‘routine’
President Trump and his budget team are voicing confidence that a government shutdown will be averted before Friday’s deadline, even as they methodically go through an Obama-era checklist of preparations for shuttering departments and agencies just in case Congress can’t agree on a spending bill in time.
The White House Office of Management and Budget late last week gave guidance to department heads to stick to contingency plans, most of which were drafted in 2015, with some updated as recently as December.
Mr. Trump described the steps as routine and downplayed the risk of a shutdown.
“I think we’re in good shape,” he said Friday.
OMB Director Mick Mulvaney echoed that confidence.
“While we do not expect a lapse, prudence and common sense require routine assessments to be made,” he said last week, as his team began running through the shutdown protocols.
Mr. Mulvaney said the nation will be defended, Social Security checks will be issued and Medicare will still be funded even if nonessential services shut down.
“But again,” he told “Fox News Sunday,” “I don’t think anybody foresees or expects or wants a shutdown.”
Underscoring the routine nature of the preparations, officials noted that previous administrations took similar steps when they faced shutdown deadlines in 2013, 2015 and twice in 2016.
Agencies are required to develop and maintain plans for a government shutdown. The plans are updated every two years, and revisions are due this year.
The last comprehensive review was performed in August 2015. In September and
December, when the Obama administration last ran through the shutdown protocols, agencies reviewed and updated the plans.
Trump administration officials said they don’t expect major changes, but it’s unclear whether a plan would be implemented differently from the one used in 2013, when President Obama and his administration were accused of making the shutdown as painful as possible on citizens to gain leverage in a budget battle with Republicans over Obamacare.
Mr. Obama’s shutdown moves that provoked complaints included erecting barricades to keep visitors out of the outdoor World War II Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial on the Mall in Washington.
The National Park Service refused to answer questions about how it would proceed in the event of a shutdown this week.
Obamacare funding again is a sticking point in the spending standoff with Democrats in Congress, although Republicans this time control the House, the Senate and the White House.
The Trump administration has insisted that any funding plan include money to pay for a wall on the southern border, one of the president’s most prominent campaign promises. Democrats say such funding amounts to a “poison pill” that could derail a bill to keep the government open for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the president told voters that Mexico would pay for the wall. Yet Mr. Trump said he needs an advance from Uncle Sam.
“Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying, in some form, for the badly needed border wall. The Democrats don’t want money from budget going to border wall despite the fact that it will stop drugs and very bad MS 13 gang members,” Mr. Trump said Sunday in a series of Twitter messages, referring to a notoriously violent gang with roots in Central America.
The issue exposed some daylight between Mr. Trump and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, who previously said the funding for a border wall could be put off until budget bills are approved for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
Negotiations between House and Senate appropriators have continued during Congress’ spring break.
The standoff over Obamacare centers on critical “cost sharing” payments to insurers. Mr. Trump has threatened to end the payments, which would put the health care law into a death spiral unless Democrats agree to negotiate major reforms to the act.
“ObamaCare is in serious trouble. The Dems need big money to keep it going — otherwise it dies far sooner than anyone would have thought,” Mr. Trump said Sunday on Twitter.
The payments, which totaled about $7 billion last year, are crucial to the survival of Mr. Obama’s namesake health care law. Without federal help to offset the cost of covering low-income patients, insurance companies likely would drop out of Obamacare or raise premiums across the board.
A federal court invalidated the payments, saying the Obama administration spent the money even though Congress specifically stripped the funds from its annual spending bills. Despite the ruling, the Obama administration continued to distribute funds while the case was appealed.
If Congress continues that funding in the new spending bill, it likely would spell victory for the appeal by Obamacare supporters, removing the underpinning of the original ruling.
The issue gained prominence after House Republicans failed to pass a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, a top campaign promise for Mr. Trump and Republican lawmakers.
Mr. Mulvaney has offered Democrats $1 in Obamacare payments for every dollar Mr. Trump gets for his border wall.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, balked.
“The U.S. government is supposed to take care of its citizens and, according to the president, Mexico is supposed to pay for the wall,” Schumer spokesman Matt House said. “If the administration would drop their eleventh-hour demand for a wall that Democrats, and a good number of Republicans oppose, congressional leaders could quickly reach a deal.” Mr. Mulvaney said elections have consequences. “We want our priorities funded, and one of the biggest priorities during the campaign was border security — keeping Americans safe — and part of that was a border wall,” he said.
The spending negotiations also put in jeopardy several other of Mr. Trump’s campaign promises, including slashing domestic spending, boosting military budgets, defunding Planned Parenthood and punishing sanctuary cities.
Congress could push back the deadline with a short-term funding bill, giving lawmakers a week or two to iron out any differences. The Pentagon has warned against a short-term measure that could delay new programs and reduce budget flexibility needed for fighting wars.
“The Republicans have the votes in the House and the Senate and the White House to keep government open,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “The burden to keep it open is on the Republicans.”
ASSURANCE: White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said that in the case of a shutdown, the nation will be defended, Social Security checks will be issued and Medicare will still be funded.
Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said he doesn’t foresee a shutdown.