President Donald Trump could soon sign a bill to avoid a government shutdown that carries few of his priorities, including money for his much-touted wall at the southern border with Mexico. Yet conservative groups, who in the past have waded into shutdown showdowns, have been largely silent.
Several conservative groups say they’ve been more focused on other fronts, including a tax policy overhaul and an effort to resuscitate the Republican-led efforts to overturn President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. They noted it was possible they could get engaged as details emerge about the short-term spending bill, which is being crafted by congressional leaders behind closed doors.
“Nothing has really gelled in terms of what the playing field is going to look like,” said Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action, the political advocacy arm of the influential Heritage Foundation think tank. In 2013 the group championed Republican efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act. That effort prompted a 13-day government shutdown as conservatives opposed a spending bill that included money for the health care law.
Holler said it would be “very disheartening to conservatives” if the upcoming short-term spending bill did not include conservative priorities, but he said it was unlikely to be repeated on the long-term spending bill.
If matters come up that are more central to our members and our mission, we may decide to engage.
Doug Sachtleben, spokesman, Club for Growth
“It’s very early in the administration, and there has not been an opportunity for this to gel in terms of where the leverage is and what the priorities of the administration are and how those line up with conservative priorities,” Holler said.
For the next spending battle, he predicted, “you will have time to lay that groundwork and forge consensus in a way that you just can’t in the current atmosphere.”
Club for Growth, a D.C.-based conservative advocacy group that also pressured Republicans to reject Obamacare spending in 2013, is focused on health care and a tax overhaul and “seeing progress continued on both of those fronts,” said Doug Sachtleben, a spokesman for the group.
“If matters come up that are more central to our members and our mission we may decide to engage,” he said.
Achieving tax and health care revisions is more effective “than spending capital on the last four or five months of government funding,” agreed Levi Russell, a spokesman for Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group backed by the Koch brothers. “We really do need a robust conversation about spending and where our tax dollars are going, and there’s no better place for that than the regular appropriations process.”
Americans for Limited Government, a Fairfax, Virginia, conservative group, has launched a website to urge members of Congress to include money for the border wall in the short-term spending bill, and it warns that Congress’ failure to secure the money now will make it more difficult later. President Rick Manning said his group pushed for the funding, though lawmakers early on suggested to the group that it would not happen.
If you’re going to have a fight, you want to have it when you are strongest, and Republicans are strongest now.
Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government, which wants to build a border wall
“It’s Donald Trump’s signature issue, it’s what he held out as being important and it’s what he will be judged on,” Manning said of the border wall. “And Republicans will never have more capacity to get the money than in April.”
Manning said he feared it would be even more difficult to push the ask into September, when lawmakers are scheduled to finalize a budget for the full 2018 fiscal year.
“The Republicans will be five months closer to an election and less likely to take on the Democrats, who can’t support a wall because of the various constituencies they have,” Manning said. “If you’re going to have a fight, you want to have it when you are strongest, and Republicans are strongest now.”
Still, Manning said he was confident that Trump would get the $1.5 billion the White House had requested to start building the wall.
“He’s adept at doing deals; he doesn’t give away stuff for nothing,” Manning said of Trump, who told conservative media at the White House on Monday that he would not oppose waiting until September to get the money. “If he is moving to a September date, he’s gotten some assurances it will get done in September.”
Radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, however, said Tuesday that he was afraid Trump was “caving” on his demand for a border wall and urged him to insist on the money and blame Democrats for opposing the wall and forcing a government shutdown.
“It’s a golden opportunity for Trump to giant-foot-stomp (Democrats) and end this crap of a perennial, never-ending government shutdown paralyzing anything sensible being done with our budget and our economy,” Limbaugh told his listeners.
At the White House, Trump vowed that the wall will get built soon and will “stop drugs” and reduce human trafficking.
“We’re going to have the wall built,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “I don’t know what people are talking. I watch these shows, and the pundits in the morning, they don’t know what they’re talking about. The wall gets built, 100 percent.”
He said the administration was already working on specifications and it would be done in his first term: “We have plenty of time. We’ve got a lot of time.”