It’s impossible to predict how the president and Congress will reconcile their budget differences in the coming days.
Like the rest of society, the federal government is composed of haves and have-nots—those agencies that are funded through the remainder of fiscal 2019, and those that are operating on stopgap funds set to expire on Dec. 7.
While the departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Energy, and Veterans Affairs received full-year funding through two “minibus” appropriations bills President Trump signed into law earlier this year, more than 300,000 federal workers at other departments would face furloughs (many more would be affected) if a deal is not reached before the December deadline.
Those departments, including Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, State, Interior, Agriculture, Treasury, Commerce, Homeland Security and Justice, are now pawns in a battle between the president, who wants funding to build a wall on the border with Mexico, and those who believe it would be an ineffective and costly mistake (most in Congress, including many Republicans).
Trump did not rule out a government shutdown over the issue in comments he made following the midterm elections, prompting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to respond at the time: “We need to work this out. We’re going to do the best we can to try to achieve the president’s priorities, and hopefully we will not be headed down that path.”
The president appeared to ratchet up the pressure on Saturday morning after a reporter asked him a question about the budget as he departed for California to review areas devastated by wildfires. Here’s a transcript of the exchange put out by the White House:
Q: “Mr. President, are you going to shutdown if don't get funding for your border wall?”
The President: “We're talking about the boarding wall—the border wall. We're talking about quite a big sum of money, about $5 billion. And I think, probably, if I were ever going to do a shutdown over border security—when you look at the caravan, when you look at the mess, when you look at the people coming in—this would be a very good time to do a shutdown.
“I don't think it's going to be necessary because I think the Democrats will come to their senses. And they don't come to their senses, we will continue to win elections. You know, we won the Senate. You do recognize, right? That means all the judges that I'm getting approved will now be easier because we actually pick up—which is a start—we picked up two seats in the Senate. We went from 51-49 to 53-47. That's a tremendous difference. And these are senators I really like. That's also a difference.”