Opinion: McConnell Has the Advantage in Upcoming Budget Fight

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McConnell and Trump have apparently had a severe falling out at the beginning of the month. At this point, it doesn’t seem as if they will have some sort of reconciliation. McConnell is a Republican, and his goal is Republican (and his own) power above all else. Trump’s ideology is Trumpism: his own adulation, no matter the policy, no matter the issue. There has to be a breaking point, and Trump may have unwittingly revealed it last night at his 2020 campaign rally.

During the rambling and spiteful speech, with Trump lashing out at what he perceived was the unfairness of people writing down the words he said, he promised to shut down the government if Congress did not provide funding for his southern border wall. McConnell’s agenda does not include it. Trump’s boondoggle is not a priority for the Senate Majority Leader, and not just because it’s a ridiculous vanity project that would be utterly ineffective and the costs of which would be ludicrous.

If McConnell passes a budget that does not include the funding, perhaps with some minor tax cuts (to placate some Republicans), but keeping some funding increases (to get some Democrats on board), he can present a bipartisan spending bill to the president. If he can get a veto-proof majority, he has won. Trump doesn’t get his wall, and McConnell shows his power.

If he doesn’t get a veto-proof majority, though, he still has a position of advantage. Trump will have to take the blame for the shutdown himself, as McConnell will be able to point at their spending budget and Trump’s own comments concerning the shutdown. Trump at that point owns the shutdown completely, because of his comments at the rally. The only other option is to cave; Trump has frequently reversed his position before, and he would likely do it again.

The only solid position President Trump has is that Trump must be seen as victorious. As dedicated as he seems to build the wall, when he spoke to the Mexican president, Trump made it clear that it was necessary from a political and public relations standpoint, not a policy standpoint. In fact, he acknowledges that the wall (and Mexico paying for it) “is the least important thing that we are talking about”. Trump’s firm positions are built on foundations of sand, and that also applies when it comes to his budget priorities.

When Trump signed the budget to continue spending through the end of the fiscal year in May, he got very little of what he wanted. There was no spending for his wall (setting a precedent), and nothing in the way of budget cuts he called for. There was increased spending for military and border security, but the former is not hard to get approved anywhere in Washington, especially Congress, and the latter, while there are some pitfalls, is relatively benign. Trump was mostly upset because Democrats claimed victory, when he wanted the laurels for himself alone. Notably, he threatened a shutdown then as well. We’ll see whether this time he follows through on his threat.