Is that daylight at the end of the budgetary tunnel, or just an oncoming train? Prospects for avoiding a shutdown brightened late yesterday with the re-emergence of a short-term omnibus spending bill or “minibus.” That had been expected to come on Monday, but only late yesterday did the effort start in the Senate on the funding measure.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted that there would be no shutdown, too:
A short-term funding extension, called a “continuing resolution,” would become the only option for keeping the government open past a Friday midnight deadline if lawmakers and Trump can’t agree on a broader deal. By late Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee had begun drafting a short-term bill that would carry government funding into February, said the panel’s chairman, Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.). …
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) flatly told reporters Tuesday that there would not be a shutdown.
“The American people don’t like it,” McConnell said. “You remember my favorite country saying: There’s no education in the second kick of a mule. We’ve been down this path before, and I don’t believe we’ll go down this path again.”
The second kick of the mule? We’ve already had two brief shutdowns this year alone, and several more episodes of budget brinksmanship over the last eight years. There hasn’t been any education at all from any of them, except to note that the side with the Big Ask is almost always the losing side in the end. That’s why McConnell doesn’t want to tread this path regardless of who kicks whom along it:
JUST IN: Senate Majority Leader McConnell says he will introduce a continuing resolution to fund the government through Feb. 8 and avoid partial shutdown. – @frankthorp
— NBC News (@NBCNews) December 19, 2018
McConnell says he wants a vote later today on the bill; the House comes back into session tonight. This could get wrapped up by tomorrow in the Senate if McConnell gets his way. According to a new poll from Morning Consult, McConnell’s right in avoiding the shutdown. Not only do voters dislike shutdowns, they don’t see the border wall as important enough to rate one:
Fifty-five percent of voters said increased funding for the border wall is not important enough for a shutdown, compared with 31 percent who said it was.
When asked the same question in November, the numbers were the same among all voters, but Republicans appear to have been sympathetic to the president’s messaging. The latest poll found 60 percent of Republicans said wall funding was important enough for a shutdown, up 11 points from the November survey. …
But even GOP voters said there were more important things for Congress to work on. Forty-three percent said building the wall should be a top priority for Congress, compared with 48 percent who would prefer to see a broader package overhauling the immigration system or measures to reduce the federal budget deficit.
Four in 10 voters (41 percent) said they would blame Trump for a shutdown, along with 10 percent who said they would blame Republicans in Congress. Thirty-one percent of voters said they would blame Democrats in Congress.
Of course, we’re almost two years out from the next election, so polling on this point has little practical value … if you think you can win a shutdown. Does the White House think that? Their sudden retreat yesterday on the $5 billion demand for the wall makes it pretty clear they don’t. Now what they want is a face-saving agreement for the short term that resets the border-wall fight with a Democratic House. Politico reports that the White House has decided to take a passive stance on what that means:
THE WHITE HOUSE HAS CLEARLY DECIDED it wants to be on the sidelines for this fight. Democrats offered them two pathways in the Oval Office last week, and the administration hasn’t responded to either of those. And yesterday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders took the position that they’ll have to see what the Senate can produce, and then TRUMP will decide what to sign.
IT’S A CURIOUS STANCE, but they clearly want some space from this deal and to set up the public position that the president has no choice but to sign whatever Congress produces late Friday. It’s a massive shift from last week, when the president was saying he’d own a shutdown, and he was looking to deal.
So perhaps it only took one kick of the mule after all. By putting this into McConnell’s hands, the Trump administration is all but guaranteeing that the minibus will succeed regardless of what it contains. Trump will rage at it, but he’ll end up signing it because Republicans would own a shutdown that has no chance of success. In February, Trump can blame Nancy Pelosi.
Don’t expect a solution on immigration and the wall then either, though. Both parties profit from the fight too much to ever solve the problems, I argue in my column for The Week:
So who will “win” a shutdown, the Democrats or Republicans? In terms of actual policy development, neither. Voters largely oppose shutdowns and see them as a failure of Washington politicians to do their jobs. Shutdowns contribute to an erosion of confidence in political institutions, which gives more power to the extremes of both parties and encourages the abandonment of the political process by those in the center. Populist uprisings among both Democrats and Republicans will only intensify as political institutions continue to produce futility and failure.
Nowhere is that failure more obvious than on immigration. Congress first authorized a border barrier in 2006 on a bipartisan vote, and the parameters for a comprehensive deal — a border wall and improved verification of valid worker status in exchange for normalization of those in the country and continued support for the DACA-eligible population — have not changed since. But neither side has budged in any meaningful way. If anything, their positions have become more extreme.
Why? Because neither party sees much benefit in compromising. Both sides sell themselves as being able to impose their will and their policies on the other, which disincentivizes any rational effort to find ways to accommodate. Those who remain adamant in all-or-nothing positions win approval from party activists, while those who take risks in working on a deal draw ridicule from their own base. Elections usually don’t provide enough power to one side or the other for that kind of triumphalist imposition of policy; even after the 2008 election that gave Democrats a filibuster-proof Senate majority and the White House, the party’s leadership conveniently put off immigration until after it lost the House majority in 2010.
It doesn’t take a second kick of the mule to recognize that the only winners of shutdowns are the political parties themselves. If you doubt that, just watch the flood of fundraising letters the next one generates. That might come as early as Saturday morning.