Now comes the real, bruising put-on-your-hard-hats budget fight.
Congress and President Donald Trump now have until Sept. 30 to figure out how to fund the federal government for the fiscal year that begins the next day.
It’s going to get ugly.
That fiscal 2017 budget fight that ended Thursday in a collegial, bipartisan way will quickly become an afterthought. Age-old political pressures, bitter feelings left over from past budget fights and the looming 2018 elections are conspiring to make crafting next year’s budget a full contact sport.
“I understand why he decided not to have that fight this time, but I think that fight needs to be had,” said Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
Trump has already suggested that a partial government shutdown might not be a bad idea if it means getting his way on administration priorities such as funding his proposed wall along the Mexican border and a huge boost in defense spending, sharply cutting domestic spending and eliminating several federal agencies. And a fresh battle over the debt ceiling looms.
Trump will be aggressive. “We’re five months away from a 2018 (budget) and I think the president’s priorities will be reflected much more in that,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday.
Labrador outlined the stakes: “He’s going to have a very unsuccessful presidency because none of his priorities are going to pass if we don’t figure out a way to do” it, the congressman said.
His conservative Republican colleagues are smarting over Democratic boasts that the stopgap budget just passed has lots for them to like. The conservatives have long sought to reduce federal budget deficits dramatically and reduce the size of government, and they see their biggest opportunity in years now that a Republican is in the White House.
Trump “can construct a shutdown in such a way – because he determines what is essential and what’s not essential – to make it quite painful for Democrats during a shutdown,” said Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., a member of the House Appropriations Committee.
If Republicans want a fight, emboldened Democrats say, bring it on.
“There’s a recognition of a strong number of Republicans who have a very easy comfort level in shutting down the government,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday. “So that just empowers us.”
Republicans have 238 seats in the House of Representatives, where 218 is a majority. Pelosi sees Trump’s eagerness to cut popular domestic programs as a highly useful campaign tool. Republicans, on the other hand, tend to see restraint as an equally important political weapon.
The appropriations committees in each chamber will begin writing a dozen bills, each dealing with a different part of government, that detail spending for fiscal 2018. Each is supposed to be passed and signed into law by Oct. 1. That rarely happens, leading to the sort of showdown that threatens, and occasionally causes, a government shutdown.
Few expect all dozen bills to be passed on time. Trump released an outline of his budget in March, and he is expected to provide more detail later this month.
The flashpoints are already clear, and include:
▪ The U.S.-Mexico wall. Trump’s March plan called for $1.4 billion for border wall construction. But the budget lawmakers approved Thursday contained $1.5 billion for border security efforts that include new technology and fixing existing infrastructure.
The administration and Trump-supporting Republicans will be looking for wall-specific money next time, and the president has vowed he will fulfill an important campaign promise.
“This will be a big deal in the budget debate,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif.
▪ A smaller government. Trump wants to reduce what he considers redundancies, eliminating dozens of agencies and programs that he finds wasteful.
Among them are the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Delta Regional Authority, designed to enhance economic development, and Community Development Block Grants, which help pay for neighborhood improvements and low-income energy assistance.
Other Republicans, back to President Ronald Reagan in 1981, have made similar proposals. They tend to go nowhere.
▪ Defense. Trump got about half the increase he had sought in the omnibus bill the Senate passed Thursday.
He called a $54 billion increase in defense spending increase in fiscal 2018, 10 percent more than the original 2017 level. But Democrats are unlikely to agree, since that would require Congress to eliminate spending caps agreed to in 2011. Big changes will mean 60 Senate votes, though, and Republicans control only 52 of the Senate’s 100 seats.
The White House also wants to pay for the defense increase by slashing funding for most domestic programs, hardly a popular idea in the year before an election.
▪ Debt ceiling. The government is expected to need new borrowing authority in the fall, and changes to the debt ceiling routinely spark conservative protests.
Harris argued that Republicans should install language in a fall bill to raise the U.S.’s borrowing authority, to give Trump leverage in dealing with resistant Democrats.
“Let’s put in all the tools the president needs in order to show Democrats that if they want a shutdown, we’re going to shut down their part of the government and keep our part open,” Harris said.
Lesley Clark, Curtis Tate and Sean Cockerham contributed to this article.