As the presidential election campaign shifts into high gear, Congress seems poised to repeat the past as the federal government approaches a funding crisis that could end in a shutdown.
In a repeat of events that occurred three years ago, Congress must approve a funding bill by October 1 or large sections of the federal government will cease to operate. In 2013, congressional Republicans refused to approve federal expenditures that did not expressly defund Obamacare before it went into effect. This year, it is Democrats who are refusing to vote for a clean continuing resolution that would fund the federal government from the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1 through December 9.
“We Democrats cannot vote for that,” Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) told Reuters, referring to Majority Leader McConnell’s continuing resolution. Democrats oppose the bill because it does not include funding to aid the city of Flint, Mich. in dealing with its water crisis. Democrats also oppose a rule preventing the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring public companies to disclose political spending. The SEC measure was included in last year’s bill and is current law.
The clean bill does include aid for flood victims in Louisiana, West Virginia and Maryland as well as funding for research to stop the Zika virus reports The Hill. These spending items are likely to be popular with voters. The Zika virus is particularly threatening in the swing state of Florida.
If a shutdown occurs, it is likely to hurt Donald Trump more than Hillary Clinton. Republicans are the party in control of both houses of Congress and are often seen as the responsible party in shutdowns. In the 2013 shutdown, Politico noted that polling showed that voters held Republicans responsible by a two-to-one margin. In the wake of the shutdown, Republican approval plummeted to a historic low, only to rebound a year later amid Democratic troubles caused by Obamacare.
If this scenario were repeated a month before the election, it would be devastating to Republican incumbents in tight races and likely to Mr. Trump’s presidential hopes as well. Public displeasure with a shutdown might shift moderate and independent voters towards the Democrats. Donald Trump has not addressed the looming shutdown, but is on record last year as supporting a shutdown to defund Planned Parenthood.
On the other hand, if Trump and the Republicans can successfully paint the Democrats as the obstructionists, a tall order given GOP advocacy for previous shutdowns and Democratic sympathy in the media, they could turn the tables. Trump, the outsider candidate might benefit by portraying himself as the man who can shake up a dysfunctional Congress and get things done.
Both Republicans and Democrats are hoping that a compromise can be reached to avert the crisis. There have been discussions on adding relief funds for Flint to the Water Resources Development Act, which has already passed the Senate.