Will they or won’t they? By the end of the day, either the Senate will have passed funding to keep government in operation, or we will have our first shutdown since 2013’s brief interruption that got overshadowed by the incompetent rollout of ObamaCare. At the moment, though, it appears that both sides are more interested in playing the blame game than in actually performing the function for which they were elected:
The Senate has less than 18 hours to avoid a government shutdown. There is no sign of an agreement as talks come down to the wire. @nancycordes reports: https://t.co/TIr5gq65Y0 pic.twitter.com/yNdAHsKVmE
— CBS News (@CBSNews) January 19, 2018
It’s not as if the Senate burned the midnight oil to get to a solution. They aren’t due back in session until 11 am, which leaves them just 13 hours to get through a lot of talk and vote on a funding bill. That assumes that they will take up the bill from the House, which made it through a surprisingly successful vote last night, setting up the showdown between Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer. And the House set up a pretty good argument for McConnell:
Senate GOP leaders prepared to force Democrats into a series of uncomfortable votes, aimed at splitting their ranks by pitting moderates from states that Trump won against party leaders and the handful of outspoken liberals considering a run for the presidency.
For one, Republicans attached a long-term extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and delays to several unpopular health-care taxes. The bill does not include protections for “dreamers,” immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children or who overstayed their visas as children, a top Democratic priority.
That represented an election-year bid by the GOP to cast the spending vote as, in part, a choice between poor children and undocumented immigrants. Ryan, McConnell, and other Republicans also sought to highlight the potential erosion to military readiness that could result from a shutdown.
This caused considerable grumbling last night on social media among conservatives after the Freedom Caucus climbed aboard the bandwagon. The riders take some of the leverage out of their hands on future spending limitations, making it more difficult to impose greater fiscal discipline in either this budget or in FY2019. However, passage of the bill was a major strategic victory for the GOP, forcing Democrats to abandon CHIP and the children in favor of their own artificial deadline on DACA, which won’t actually wind down until March.
Of course, the media won’t make that point for Republicans, and some outlets already seem invested in blaming Republicans out of the ignorant argument that they control Congress. Even on Fox, apparently, a few people still don’t know that cloture votes apply to budget appropriations and therefore require supermajorities. Oddly, these were the same media outlets that blamed Republicans for the Senate shutdown in 2013 when Democrats had a bigger majority than the GOP does in 2018.
But perhaps Republicans should shrug off the media headwinds here and allow Democrats to shut down the government. The White House has the upper hand in these stunts, as both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton proved, by picking and choosing which workers to furlough. Both Obama and Clinton made it as painful as possible; Obama locked veterans out of national parks in 2013, garnering huge headlines and generating lots of anger toward Ted Cruz and his fellow futile obstructionists.
Donald Trump and his team should take the opposite approach: make everything seem normal while shutting down the regulatory agencies Democrats love. Keep the national parks open, but shut down the EPA. Maintain military readiness, but close down the Departments of Education and Labor. Rather than look at the short-term public relations hit, the White House should keep their eyes on the long game by using a shutdown to remind Americans just how much of the government they could truly live without. And when all of those union-represented employees have gone without a couple of paychecks on top of that, wait for Democrats to come back to the table.
It’d be much better if Democrats didn’t obstruct the budget over DACA, of course. But if they do, it shouldn’t be Republicans panicked over a shutdown.