President Trump declared he would never sign another stinker government funding bill like the omnibus again, yet many in Washington, D.C. expect the legislative funding game to be played exactly the same way this upcoming September. It doesn’t have to be, and if the GOP wants its majority to survive, they better make certain it isn’t.
The first step is to demand that he receive the Defense appropriations bill on his desk no later than Memorial Day. Seasoned D.C. insiders will cluck their teeth noting that the Senate won’t pass an individual Defense appropriations bill because it is their big bargaining chip during the inevitable massive spending bill fight. That is interesting, but not relevant when vulnerable Democrat Senator after Senator is being politically whipped by their constituents to end an actual, real-life filibuster against the passage of the bill. With the President using the bully pulpit to excoriate them, they will cave-in to the pressure. But only if they are forced to actually filibuster the bill and hold the Senate floor, as opposed to the current courtesy paper filibuster.
If, as is likely, there are differences of opinion between the House and Senate about what should be in the appropriations bill, they resolve the differences, the House passes the amended bill, and the Senate Democrats have a choice on whether to try to hold the floor again.
After a few of these forced, real filibusters, the Democrats will be much less likely to fight everything, but instead will negotiate some changes in exchange for their votes. That is regular order, rather than the current hostage taking which is the current government funding process.
But to break the stranglehold of failure that engulfs the legislative process, President Trump needs to engage in both the timing of when each bill comes up, and making certain that the funding bills contain his priorities. He cannot afford to find himself doing a photo-op in front of “big, beautiful walls” only to discover that funding for those walls has been explicitly prohibited in the funding bill that he is promoting.
The previous administration was expert at forcing GOP leaders in the House and Senate to accept its funding priorities and stripping out riders and defunds that were counter to their policy wishes. President Trump can and should be even more effective with ostensible support from majorities in both houses of Congress. The White House just needs a war room which combines legislative calendar and messaging to bring the full weight of the executive branch to bear.
While the above description is simplistic in that achieving the goal of passing individual appropriations bills and avoiding a continuing resolution to extend funding of the government into the lame duck is much harder than described. The truth is that President Trump will likely not have a better Congress to work within 2019, so this may be his last, best opportunity to achieve his funding priorities until his second term.
The White House needs to recognize this right now, and begin a focused battle plan to force their priorities through Congress in September. A September continuing resolution to a lame duck session almost guarantees that the President’s priorities will lose even if the GOP maintains control of Congress.
The best answer is to avoid this problem by putting every ounce of energy into funding those priorities during the spring and summer so a late September choice between a bad, bad bill and shutting down the government is avoided.