Welcome back to the Someone Left the Irony On Department in national politics. Congress faces a hard budget deadline at the end of next week, thanks to the continuing resolutions of last fall which kicked funding decisions to well after the election. One Senator warns that radical activists on the Left have pushed Democrats into complete “across the board obstruction” that will precipitate a government shutdown, which Chuck Schumer will do to appease hardliners despite the fact that it won’t have any success.
And Ted Cruz, of all people, should know it:
Ted Cruz, no stranger himself to government funding fights, expressed concern Monday that the “Democratic radical left” would prompt a government shutdown in the coming weeks as Congress faces an April 28 deadline to pass a spending bill.
“You know, I very much hope we don’t have a shutdown,” Cruz told reporters. “I will say I’m concerned. I think [Senate Minority Leader] Chuck Schumer and the Democrats want a shutdown.” …
“You know, one of the dynamics we’ve got is the Democratic radical left is demanding of Senate Democrats that they oppose everything, that they engage in across-the-board obstruction,” Cruz said Monday. “And so I do have some concern that to appease the radical left, Chuck Schumer and the Democrats may do everything they can to try to provoke a shutdown.”
The problem facing Republicans in Congress is that Donald Trump wants to put his imprint on the FY2017 budget, especially when it comes to the border wall. Democrats plan an all-out fight against that funding, even in a nominal amount, as part of La Resistance to Trump. That much, at least, would be part of the actual discretionary budget process, unlike the “defund ObamaCare” government shutdown in 2013 that ended up flopping — and nearly distracting voters from the even bigger disaster of the ObamaCare rollout. As we see to this day, ObamaCare gets most of its funding and does most of its spending by statute rather than appropriations, which meant that the 2013 defunding effort was a dead end right from the start.
That won’t be the only difference from 2013, and certainly not the most determinative. When Cruz initiated his shutdown efforts, it handed the initiative to the White House and the media to craft the narrative. That became, inevitably, a story of aged veterans being denied access to memorials and poor people at risk of losing access to safety-net programs, which the media amplified ad nauseam until the ObamaCare rollout flop eclipsed it. As the coverage of recent special elections makes clear, the media narrative this time will be filled with anecdotes from the scrappy opposition to Donald Trump and its courage in taking on The Man. Expect lots of references to the “Fearless Girl” statue rather than heartbroken veterans.
However, the Trump administration has some cards to play, too. Government shutdowns leave a lot of discretion in the hands of the president, and that could allow Trump to score a few points whether the media covers it or not. Public employee unions could see a lot of furloughed workers, who usually wind up getting back pay when government reopens. The Trump administration has no reason to agree to that, though, and that means government workers would pay the cost of the progressive Left’s protests. The White House could choose to shut down lots of regulatory efforts dear to Democrats, and to make it clear that they won’t start up again afterwards — at least not for a long while. Trump wanted to make steep cuts in executive-branch agencies anyway, and a shutdown will give him an opportunity to start that process while bypassing Congress.
In the end, presidents win shutdowns because they have a lot more leverage, even with a hostile media. Furthermore, a shutdown undermines the Left in a way that doesn’t apply to the Right — it attacks the notion that we need bigger and more-present government in all issues. Schumer & Co can’t afford to have a shutdown go on long enough to disprove their entire raison d’être. Even with a sympathetic media behind them, budget obstructionism is not sustainable for long, and will eventually infuriate voters who expect Congress to do their jobs rather than stamp their feet and threaten to take their ball home.
You can ask Ted Cruz about that, too, especially after his loss in the 2016 primaries.