The Continuing Resolution was a Big Win…for Whom?

Alan Zendell, May 2, 2017

When Congress passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government running, we were so distracted by the on-again off-again threat over funding the border wall, most of us didn’t look too closely at the CR itself. First, in case you don’t know exactly what a CR is, it’s a special kind of appropriations bill, used when the most recent appropriation runs out, that provides funding for the government to keep doing whatever it was already doing until a formal budget agreement can be agreed upon.

Passing a CR usually involves some negotiations. Often its duration is an issue, but when very short term CRs are passed the entire process simply has to be revisited when they too run out. The more interesting negotiations are usually about content. People in Congress who think the government is spending too much or too little on this or that (defense, entitlements, subsidies, and so on) often try to amend the CR to cut or add items. That’s what the border wall threat was about. Trump wanted funding for the wall, which did not appear in the previous budget, to be added to the CR.

In the end, the CR passed on May 1 provided funds to keep the government open until the end of the fiscal year, September 30, 2017. The Republicans were elated because they got it done, avoiding a shutdown for which they would have been blamed. The Democrats, however, were ecstatic.

Why? Because the Republicans essentially passed a six month extension of Obama’s 2016 budget (see James Hohmann’s May 1st edition of The Daily 202 for more details). They were going to defund Planned Parenthood – it didn’t happen. They were going to trash the EPA’s budget – that didn’t happen, either. Trump wanted funding for scientific research reduced, but it actually increased, including a huge $2 billion increase for NIH. He wanted to increase defense spending by $30 billion, but the conservative wing of the party cut that in half. He desperately wanted to deal Obamacare a fatal blow by cutting off federal subsidies that help people pay for premiums – that proposal died before the negotiations got started.

And then there’s the border wall. Not only did the CR include $0 in funding for the wall, but it only contained half of the money Trump wanted to beef up border security and that money came with language making it clear that it could only be used for new technology and maintenance of existence infrastructure. Trump’s own party couldn’t have slapped him down harder on his signature campaign promise.

In an ironic, but not surprising side note, the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, one of the first PACs to support Trump early in his campaign, withdrew its support today, claiming that he’d failed to keep any of his promises on immigration (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/may/2/pro-trump-pac-rescinds-endorsement/?utm_source=onesignal&utm_campaign=pushnotify&utm_medium=push).

Until now, Trump’s policy of making promises while having no idea of the process he needed to use to fulfill them has been source of amusement for some detractors. His antics have lost him support among independent voters, but haven’t really dented his base. Is this the first large crack in the wall of Trump support? Conventional wisdom says groups that dump large amounts of money into a campaign expect payback after the election. I wonder how long his other big donors will hang in there when it becomes clear that he’s incapable of governing the way he promised.

The thing is, no one forced this situation on the president. He was so sure he could twist the Congress to his desires, that he insisted on funding the government only halfway through the fiscal year shortly after he was elected (http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-congress-budget-deal-20170430-story.html?wpisrc=nl_daily202&wpmm=1).

The recent fight over the CR didn’t have to occur at all, if not for Trump’s need to brag about how much he could get done quickly. While many observers have noted that there’s a huge gap between his promises and accomplishments, nothing underlines that more than the total capitulation on the CR. Given Trump’s behavior, one can only wonder if this was just the tip of the iceberg.

It’s worth noting that Trump said he intends to renew the fight over funding for his goals in September. But by then, there will doubtless be a flock of Democrats out there campaigning against every vulnerable Republican in the House. The 2018 election will be only fourteen months away.

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