Both angst and realpolitik have been much in evidence over the omnibus spending bill that President Trump signed into law late last week. The latter has come from the President, the former from many of his erstwhile supporters. Consider this disappointed perspective:
Trump won the election in part because of his promise to be a genuine maverick. But the Trump we saw Friday evening, Friday afternoon, last September, last May and countless other times wasn’t a maverick. He was a soft, weak-kneed, bleeding-heart chump, point blank.
Have I personally given up on him yet? Of course not. But I have definitely chosen to stop excusing his bullshit.
Look, folks, you can’t act like Trump is some unparalleled leader and then turn around and whine that he’s failing because Republicans aren’t supporting him enough. He’s the damn president and commander in chief, and if he wants to win reelection in 2020, he better man up and start acting like it!
Angst? You bet. Logical? Realpolitik? Far from it.
Let's consider facts. Congress, not the President, controls "the power of the purse". Spending decisions are made, considered and passed by Congress. The President can sign or veto them, as he chooses, but he cannot dictate what they contain. If he vetoes them, Congress can override his veto with a two-thirds majority vote. The omnibus spending bill was passed with a 58% majority in the House of Representatives. Over 100 Republican congressional representatives voted against it, but Democrats supported it, pushing it over the majority threshold.
I note with cynical lack of surprise that the Republicans control Congress. They could have come together to draft and pass a bill that they could all support; but they did not, so much so that the party fractured in its vote. That isn't the President's problem. That's the Republican Party's problem. I daresay it'll only be resolved by voting many of their representatives out of office, and replacing them with those who are more committed to working together with the President, rather than for "the swamp". That, again, is not something the President can do. It's up to voters.
On the basis of his performance in office so far, President Trump is more interested in realpolitik than in angst. He does what he can. He fights the battles he can win. If he can't fight them with a reasonable chance of success, he chooses a different battle. He could not possibly win the "battle of the budget" if his own party could not draft, and unite behind, a more suitable spending bill. It's no use criticizing him for signing a less-than-perfect bill. Realistically, what alternative did he have? Reject it, and plunge the nation into disorder while his veto was contested (and possibly overridden) in Congress? Force the US government into shutdown because neither side was prepared to compromise? We've tried that, repeatedly. It doesn't work.
On the other hand, by choosing to work within the system, President Trump has opened up at least the possibility of avoiding the more onerous provisions of the omnibus spending bill, and using it to support his agenda. Consider this:
1. Congress allocates money to be spent. The President spends the allocated money.
2. Once Congress allocates money, their job is oversight of the money being spent. They don't spend the money and have no say HOW it gets spent as long as it's spent legally. That's their job to monitor with oversight.
3. Once the President is given the money with the instructions to spend it, he has a number of choices to make in spending it. There are some rules he has to follow & some of the money is fungible and some isn't.
4. However there are some other factors that are in play here. One of them is that the President has declared a Human Rights Emergency AND has notified Congress that he's invoking the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985.
5. This opens up new options.
6. By making these two declarations President Trump has just communicated that he has the authority to NOT spend any funds he doesn't deem necessary and will return them to the US Treasury. So, funds for Planned Parenthood? He can simply not allocate the funds.
7. Also, these declarations make some funds fungible. For instance if he determines that building a Wall on the Southern Border is a defense against Human Trafficking? He can move funds from anywhere else in the Defense Dept Allocation & simply build the Wall.
8. Congress is powerless to stop cash reallocations on an omnibus bill AND cannot stop the DOD from taking measures under a declared Emergency.
9. Despite their language in the Omnibus Bill about the Border Wall, it is trumped by the State of Emergency that Trump declared.
There's more at the link. Recommended reading.
Of course, there's no guarantee that President Trump will behave in that fashion: but he was very prompt to invoke his powers and prerogatives (see point 4 above). I doubt he'd have done so unless he intended to use them. That's not his way. Furthermore, as a commenter at Brock Townsend's place notes:
1. President Trump now has the money he wants for the military and a significant sum for ‘wall materials’.
2. President Trump is the Commander in Chief of the US Military.
3. The US Army has a 37,000 man strong unit of Army Engineers which, given the funds for manpower and equipment, could expand rapidly.
Add 1, 2 and 3 and examine possibilities.
Hmmm . . .
To reinforce the perspectives above, there's the issue of Presidential flexibility in using monies allocated by Congress. If they are allocated in the form of "normal" appropriations bills, one for each department of the Federal government that's entitled to a budget, those funds can usually be used only as provided in the bill. They can't be reallocated to some other purpose without Congressional approval of the change. However, in an omnibus spending bill (i.e. not department-specific), the conditions attached to their use are more relaxed. Provided that they're used to meet the overall needs of the department for which they're allocated, under certain conditions they can be switched from one need to another within that department - or not spent at all, at the President's discretion. That's what I think the President's invocation of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, and his earlier declaration of a human rights emergency, are all about.
If President Trump should deem the uncontrolled influx of illegal aliens across the southern border of the USA to represent a "human rights emergency", and/or a threat to the nation's security, he could divert US defense and other funds to address it, because that could justified as a defensive expenditure to ensure US security. Do, please, note the President's tweet yesterday (clickit to biggit):
Makes you think, doesn't it? As for all those decrying the President for signing a manifestly imperfect omnibus spending bill . . . you might want to wait and see what happens. This President is not noted for rolling over and playing dead.
Don't judge President Trump by what he says. Judge him by what he does. The two are frequently a long way apart.