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Setting the Stage for Another Trump Shutdown

By David Rosen

The possibility of another Trump Shutdown is growing, and it’s proof that some people never learn from their mistakes – even extremely painful ones.

Government shutdowns happen when Congress and the White House are unable to reach agreement on a set of 12 annual spending bills for the year ahead and then funding lapses. Disagreements over funding for President Donald Trump’s racist border wall boondoggle led to a partial government shutdown that lasted from Dec. 22, 2018 through Jan. 25, 2019. It did not go well for the president or his party, politically or substantively.

According to polling at the time, voters in battleground states turned sharply against Trump (by 15-20 points) and Senate Republicans (by 10-12 points). Voters blamed Trump and congressional Republicans for the shutdown by a roughly 2-to-1 margin. The president’s overall approval plummeted into the mid-30s, one of the lowest points of Trump’s presidency. Even the bipartisan National Governors Association turned against him and Republicans in Congress – and with good reason: The impacts of the partial shutdown were both widespread and painful.

Hundreds of thousands of federal workers spread across every state went without paychecks during the holidays; some were even forced to seek help at food pantries. From Alaska’s fishing industry to Colorado’s women’s shelters, from Florida’s hurricane victims to Iowa’s farmers to small business owners in Maine – voters everywhere paid the price.

Going into an election year, it’s astonishing that the president or congressional Republicans would risk an even bigger shutdown than the one that took place a year ago. You might think that Republican lawmakers – wary of their erratic, short-tempered, reckless president – would do everything in their power to avoid setting the stage for another shutdown. You also might think that the cold, calculating Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would see the danger and do what was necessary to pass the FY 2020 spending legislation, but the possibility that the opposite will happen is very real.

The FY 2020 spending bills were due at the end of September. Congress already has kicked the can down the road for three months – repeatedly extending the funding deadline with continuing resolutions. The current funding deadline is Dec. 20, just 10 days away at the time of this post. If it were just up to congressional lawmakers, it’s unlikely that they’d risk a government shutdown going into the holidays. But it’s not just up to them.

There is growing concern that Trump might shut down the government in retaliation for or to distract from impeachment – which is likely to hit the House floor at the same time as the spending bills during the week of Dec. 16. That’s why it’s crucial that Senate Republicans to buckle down and finish appropriating now, so that they don’t give Trump the opportunity to act on this reckless impulse.

Democratic lawmakers in both chambers of Congress want to finish appropriating before the Dec. 20 deadline because the House-passed bills contain increased and badly needed funding for departments throughout our government. Agencies are counting on this funding to be able to protect our health, safety, environment, homes and workplaces. In addition, the House-passed bills removed a set of legacy riders – poison pills held over from previous budget cycles – that block campaign finance rules, attack public health and harm our environment.

Public Citizen is particularly interested in eliminating three harmful campaign finance riders from the Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) appropriations bill. Unfortunately, these corrupt measures will continue to stick around if Congress doesn’t remove them in the final conferenced package created through House and Senate negotiations. And they certainly won’t come out if Congress just passes another continuing resolution or if the government shuts down.

The first rider prevents the U.S. Treasury Department and the IRS from clarifying the legal definition of “political activity” to reduce abuses by those willing to spend secret money in elections. Once this rider is removed for good, we hope that Treasury will restart a rulemaking that got shut down by this rider in 2015 that would finally put in place clear, understandable rules that promote civic participation and confront abuses.

The second rider blocks the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from finalizing rules that would reveal how big donors and corporations are spending in elections. Shareholders have a right to know if corporate executives are spending investors’ money on lobbying and political campaigns.

The third rider prohibits federal contractors from being required to disclose their political spending. This is an obvious potential source of corruption that needs to be addressed but can’t be if the rider remains.

The House-passed FSGG funding bill also contains an additional $600 million to help state and local governments beef up election security. This funding will help close an enormous gap for states that haven’t yet upgraded to paper ballot voting systems, put in place rigorous post-election audits and set up more secure registration systems. Both Republicans and Democrats have called for sustained funding that states and localities can use to fill security gaps. These funds are desperately needed to secure the vote.

Public Citizen and our allies in the Clean Budget Coalition are fighting for increased funding and to remove all of the harmful legacy riders that House appropriators already took out of the final spending package. You can help by calling your two senators – especially if either or both are Republicans – and demanding they move forward with the House-passed funding bills before the Dec. 20 deadline.

No one besides the president wants another Trump Shutdown, but Senate Republicans are giving Trump the chance to instigate one. The stakes are high and regular people cannot afford to see a lapse in funding. Mitch McConnell needs to recognize this and push back on the president before it’s too late.