What Comes Next Now That The Government Is Open Again
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Federal employees are back to work today now that the longest government shutdown in U.S. history is over. But this return to normal could be temporary. Members of Congress have just three weeks to strike a deal on border security or risk another shutdown. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now to talk about what comes next. Mara, welcome to the studio.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Glad to be here, Audie.
CORNISH: So next steps - what's supposed to happen on Capitol Hill?
LIASSON: What happens is that conferees from both parties, both houses of Congress, meet for the first time on Wednesday. Democrats have not specifically ruled out spending any money for border barriers. They don't want the president's wall, but they are open to other kinds of barriers. Donald Trump gave an interview to The Wall Street Journal where he was a little bit pessimistic. He put the odds at getting a deal that was acceptable to him at less than 50/50, and he is continuing to talk about getting his wall done one way or another, meaning that if he doesn't like the deal Congress comes up with, he could declare a national emergency and spend on unobligated Pentagon funds...
LIASSON: ...On his own to build a wall.
CORNISH: And then you had White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. She was asked about the prospect of a repeat shutdown today. Here's what she said.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president doesn't want to go through another shutdown. That's not the goal. The goal is border security and protecting the American people.
LIASSON: That being said, the president did tell The Wall Street Journal that shutting down the government remains an option. But everyone I've talked to on both sides of the aisle thinks that another shutdown is not likely given the financial and political costs of the one we just went through. It's hard to imagine the president would say, sure, let's go back to long lines at airports, no IRS checks, federal workers at food banks. More likely, according to most of the people I've talked to, is if Congress can't come up with a deal acceptable to him, then he would declare a national emergency.
CORNISH: And the stakes are high, right? I mean, we now know more about the political and financial costs. What have we learned?
LIASSON: What we learned is that the Congressional Budget Office has calculated what it thinks the shutdown costs. This is CBO Director Keith Hall.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
KEITH HALL: There is a permanent loss, however, right? You lose the government output for five weeks. That's never made up. So we think on net, we're still going to be about $3 billion short on GDP.
LIASSON: So what Hall is saying is that according to his projections, the shutdown cost the country $11 billion over the first two quarters of this fiscal year, but 8 billion of that can be replenished. Now, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow disagrees with the CBO's findings. He says in a $20 trillion economy, the shutdown will not cause permanent damage; it's a very, very tiny fraction.
CORNISH: Now, what about the political costs? I mean, at this point, how much damage was done to the president politically?
LIASSON: Well, he definitely took a hit not just because he didn't get the wall because he still might and because for many immigration restrictionists, the wall isn't even their top priority. But Republicans who are disappointed in the president are disappointed because he went into this macho standoff and lost to Madam Speaker. And he looked incompetent. It looked like he didn't have a strategy.
But most Republicans I've talked to say although he's - has been hurt in the short run, his approval ratings have gone down - in the long run, if he can still show his base that he's fighting for the wall, he can come out of this. This is still very early in the 2020 cycle, and we have seen in the past a shutdown's political effects can evaporate. In 2013, the Republicans shut down the government, took a huge hit. And then that story was completely forgotten when the Obamacare website debuted and crashed. So the - I guess the best thing for the president is that this happened very early in this year.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks for your reporting.
LIASSON: Thank you.
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