Get ready for a strange new respect for obstructionism. In a Politico article describing how the comity of the Senate has started “coming apart” in the new Trump administration, Joh Bresnahan and Burgess Everett end up describing how desperate Senate Democrats have become for relevance in single-party governance from the other party. When the current continuing resolution providing authorization for federal operations expires at the end of April, they may take a page from the Ted Cruz playbook and force a government shutdown:
The prospect of another “nuclear option” fight looms over Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, a move that would cause a volcanic uproar from the minority party. Yet Democrats won’t rule out blocking him, and Republicans are threatening to kill the supermajority requirement to get him confirmed, potentially watering down the filibuster even further.
However, the real payback from Democrats may come later in the year. The first half of 2017 will be dominated by bills that McConnell can push through on a simple majority — including Obamacare repeal and a tax-reform package.
But government funding will run out on April 28, and Democrats could filibuster any bill to keep the government open, forcing a showdown over Republicans’ spending and policy decisions. It’s unlikely to happen, admitted Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), although other Democrats suggest it could.
Needless to say, this is every bit as insane as when Republicans did it — and maybe more so. Tactically speaking, a shutdown hands the White House carte blanche to control what spending can take place. That allows the administration to create the optics and the media narratives by showing how uncaring obstructionists are to, well, practically any and every underdog in America. Remember when national parks got shut down, and veterans couldn’t go the memorials honoring them, among the other sad stories that the media made sure to amplify in the 2013 shutdown?
Granted, the national media won’t be nearly as eager to rush to those barricades if Democrats force a shutdown, but there are still two problems with that. One is that voters just gone done putting Republicans in charge, and the second is that the shutdown will be over nearly nothing but spite. At least Cruz had ObamaCare in his sights, even if the budget process is largely irrelevant to ObamaCare funding (it draws most of its funds from statutory taxes, not appropriations). Democrats will have nothing but Trumpophobia as their issue. In the meantime, there are plenty of media outlets who will cover the losers in a shutdown.
That fight may get postponed to the FY2018 budget process and focus on the twelve appropriations bills instead:
It is the annual appropriations bills, though, where Democrats have their most power. GOP congressional leaders and the White House already believe Senate Democrats will block most or all of those bills, looking to gain an upper hand over Trump and Republicans. If Trump goes too far with policy riders — totally defunding Planned Parenthood, for instance — or makes cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency or other health and safety programs that Democrats consider too deep, Democrats suggest they’re willing to go the mat.
Again, though, the same problems pertain. Are Democrats really willing to shut down the whole government so that the nation’s largest abortion mill can get federal subsidies that could otherwise go to tens of thousands of other clinics? Do they plan to shut down the Indian Health System, firefighting in national parks, and the Smithsonian in order to salvage their preferred funding levels for the EPA? The White House would have a field day (or many of them, more literally speaking) highlighting the impact of that obstruction.
It’s not the Senate that’s coming apart. It’s the Senate Democrats.