White House 'confident' government shutdown can be avoided but still tells agencies to prepare for it

Mythili Sampathkumar
Donald Trump is confident a deal can be reached on federal spending to avoid a government shutdown: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is “confident” that the Trump administration will avoid a government shutdown as a result of a battle with Congress over funding the border wall with Mexico and healthcare.

Donald Trump thinks the White House and Congress are “in good shape” to avoid any work stoppage.

“Obviously we don't want the government to shut down, but we want to make sure that we're funding the priorities of the government,” said Mr Spicer.

Democrat Representative Nina Lowey said she does not “see how we can meet that deadline.”

Federal agencies are only funded until 28 April – the day before Mr Trump’s 100th day in office – and Congress is in recess until 24 April, so the race is on to pass a spending package that would cover the last five months of the fiscal year ending in September.

“I think we want to keep the government open,” Mr Trump said. But as part of a routine procedure, the Office of Budget and Management has asked all federal agencies to submit their work plans in case the government is forced to shut down.

Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House, making this ability to continue governing a basic test of their abilities.

Garnering Democratic support for the spending bill will be dependent on what provisions Republicans want to include.

Democrats have already said they would not support any spending bill that would allocate taxpayer money to pay for a border wall with Mexico, one of Mr Trump’s core campaign promises.

For several months he said Mexico would pay for the construction project, but after taking office he included line items in his initial proposed federal budget to cover repairs to sections of the existing border fortifications and some new construction.

There have been no accurate cost estimations of how much the entire wall – over 2,000 miles long – would be because of varying prices of materials, labour, land clearing, and other factors.

Republicans have also floated a provision to end subsidies for low-income people to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Democrats do not support any such legislation and the Republican replacement to Obamacare failed to even come up for a vote in the House of Representatives in March 2016 because of strong dissent within the Republican party.

Another point of contention is Planned Parenthood, a nationwide women’s health organisation.

The group receives federal funding and Democrats would like to see that continued but Republicans oppose it since Planned Parenthood offers abortion services in some of their clinics.

Only about three per cent of all medical services offered by Planned Parenthood are abortion-related.

Perhaps one of the thorniest topics on the agenda is Mr Trump’s proposed $54bn (£42bn) increase in defence spending while cutting an almost equivalent amount in environmental, housing and urban development, the Coast Guard, and diplomatic programmes at the State Department.

The last time the federal government shutdown was in October 2013 during former President Barack Obama’s second term. Republicans orchestrated the 17-day shutdown in an effort to repeal Obamacare, which was ultimately unsuccessful in that goal.

A short-term extension could be passed by the House but ultimately the discussions will have to continue.

Republican Representative Tom Cole, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, said that “even our most recalcitrant members understand that if you shut down the government while you're running it and you control the House and the Senate, you can't blame anybody but yourself.”