Center for American Progress

Is Trump Planning to Distract from His Tax Bill by Causing a Government Shutdown?

Is Trump Planning to Distract from His Tax Bill by Causing a Government Shutdown?

Trying to placate his base, which will not be happy with his donor-driven tax bill, Trump appears to be seeking a government shutdown.

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a speech at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, November 2017. (AP/Lee Jin-man, Pool)
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a speech at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, November 2017. (AP/Lee Jin-man, Pool)

In the early morning hours of Saturday, December 2, Senate leadership rammed through its tax bill, the final version of which had been drafted just a few hours earlier, on a party-line vote. The bill was a plutocrat’s dream: massive tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations paid for by increases in middle-class taxes and cuts to middle-class health care. But now, concerned about the backlash from his core supporters—who will bear the brunt of these toxic changes—President Donald Trump may be looking to win back favor by breaking his promise to Dreamers and shutting down the government.

The tax bill funds giveaways to donors by raising taxes on the middle class

The Senate tax bill, like its counterpart in the House, is an effort to fulfill conservatives’ promises to their donors. It provides massive tax cuts for corporations, the wealthy, and all types of special interests. Just hours before the bill passed, as sweetheart deals were handed out to lobbyists and special interests behind closed doors, the language was modified to provide an even bigger tax break to Trump, achieved by lowering the special tax rate paid by the pass-through entities that he uses.

To pay for all these special deals, the bill raises taxes on millions of working- and middle-class American families. It also undermines middle-class health insurance; it will result in 13 million more uninsured Americans by 2025 and increase premiums by nearly $2,000 in 2019 for a typical family buying insurance on its own. And the $1.4 trillion cost of the bill will result in automatic, deep spending cuts, including $25 billion in cuts to Medicare next year alone.

Enacting this kind of tax bill into law will be disastrous for President Trump’s voter base. Trump and his supporters in Congress have managed to construct “one of the least popular tax plans” in almost 40 years. As his base realizes just how bad this bill is for them, Trump’s already low approval ratings are likely to crater even further.

Trump is distracting from broken promises by precipitating a government shutdown

President Trump’s response to this issue is apparently to try to change the conversation, and he may have settled on forcing a funding showdown as his best option. Whether this is a well-thought-out plan or a chaotic response to the poor reception the tax bill has received, Trump’s efforts to push a government shutdown are a real threat and part of a longstanding pattern. Unless Republican leaders in Congress work with the president to pass a spending bill, the federal government will shut down in just two-and-a-half days. And the current proposal from House leadership is to provide only two weeks of funding, so even if the government avoids shutting down this week, we will be right back in the same place in a little more than 14 days.

Political leaders generally seek to avoid shutting down the government. Earlier this year, however, President Trump floated the idea that the nation “needs a good ‘shutdown.’” In recent days, he has even been telling trusted confidants that he believes a government shutdown could benefit him from a political standpoint, particularly if he ties it to his demand that Congress fund an unnecessary border wall.

His latest plan appears to be to precipitate a shutdown fight by violating the deal he struck to address the problems caused by ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Due to Trump’s reckless cancellation of DACA, nearly 800,000 young people who have lived in the United States since childhood soon will be at risk of detention and deportation. This would tear apart the lives of these young people, called Dreamers, and send shockwaves through the U.S. economy, reducing the gross domestic product by more than $460 billion over the next decade. Each day that Congress and the president fail to act, roughly 122 more Dreamers lose their DACA protection; already, thousands of Dreamers have lost their protection from deportation.

Trump’s demagoguing is not new: For more than two years, he has turned to anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies to energize his base. During the 2016 campaign, he said that he brought up the wall at rallies when he sensed that his supporters were beginning to lose interest: “You know, if it gets a little boring, if I see people starting to sort of, maybe thinking about leaving, I can sort of tell the audience, I just say, ‘We will build the wall!’ and they go nuts.”

Furthermore, Trump has been a longtime proponent of shutting down the government. When congressional Republicans refused to fund the government four years ago in a last-ditch effort to block implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Trump was one of their biggest cheerleaders. In the days leading up to the shutdown, Trump encouraged members of Congress to withhold funding, and he dismissed as “lies” any claim that important government functions would be disrupted. During the shutdown, Trump regularly urged the House majority to show total unity and excoriated members who questioned the wisdom of the shutdown or who eventually began to work toward a bipartisan solution.


As Trump plays fast and loose with causing a government shutdown, it’s important that Congress stand strong and hold the president to his promises. There are a number of important priorities that must be accomplished by the end of the year, including passing the bipartisan Dream Act, funding health insurance for children, and setting spending levels for the upcoming year.

Not protecting Dreamers by the end of the year is tantamount to not protecting them at all. The president and his supporters need to keep their word, not try to shut down the government as a political ploy. But if they do, they will have to bear the consequences of these actions—and should not depend on the support of progressives to move forward any funding bill that hurts innocent people to distract from Trump’s failed policies.

Tom Jawetz is the vice president of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress. Sam Berger is the senior policy adviser at the Center. Miguel Rodriguez is the senior vice president for Government Affairs at the Center.

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 (Tom Jawetz)

Tom Jawetz

Senior Fellow

Sam Berger

Former Vice President, Democracy and Government Reform

Miguel Rodriguez

Senior Vice President, Government Affairs