GOP won shutdown skirmish, but budget battle is far from over
01/29/18 Filed in: Spending
Reader feedback at end.
Let's begin by reprising some developments in recent months:
ACT ONE: Observers noted a slew of deadlines when the members of Congress returned to Washington after the August recess. How in the world could they all be met in the limited time available? But the log-jam was broken with unexpected speed by dint of passing a continuing resolution (CR) and suspending the debt limit so that the government could continue operations after the new fiscal year began on October 1. Oops, that's not what was supposed to happen, 9/11/17. Most of the rest of the month was taken up by a Republican-led effort to "repeal and replace" GovCare, which ultimately fell short.
ACT TWO: As the December 8 fiscal deadline approached, the list of issues was just as long as it had been in September. (A) Passing a tax cut, which had replaced healthcare reform as the top Republican priority; (B) Enacting appropriation bills for fiscal year 2018 (they should have been done by October 1, but were still outstanding - further delay was made possible by a new CR running through December 18); (C) reauthorizing the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which had been supported on a stopgap basis since September; (D) coping with the debt limit (which was restarted as of Dec. 8, albeit at a higher level of $20.456 trillion, with all concerned aware that the Treasury Department could employ "extraordinary measures" to defer the day of reckoning for several months); (E) considering measures to stabilize the GovCare individual insurance markets as this supposedly doomed program was still in effect; and (F) enacting a legislative replacement for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy by the March 5 deadline (an administrative program had been terminated in September, with a six-month grace period for congressional action). Despite the reluctance of either party to trigger a government shutdown shortly before Christmas, we saw a 20% chance there would be one. Year-end frenzy in DC, 12/11/17.
It wasn't easy, but Republicans managed to stick together and pass a tax cut bill via the reconciliation process without any Democratic votes. Then another CR was enacted, which would keep the government running until midnight on January 19, 2018. The year in review, SAFE newsletter, Winter 2017.
ACT THREE: In the run-up to the January 19 fiscal deadline, all of the foregoing issues remained in play except a tax cut (which had been enacted). Republicans proposed another short-term deal to permit more time to negotiate, but Democrats signaled that they weren't willing to cooperate unless the GOP agreed to a DACA deal on terms that they deemed satisfactory. Earmarks can't solve the fiscal problem, 1/15/18.
The ensuing government shutdown began at 00:01 AM on Saturday, January 20 and ended at 9:02 PM on January 22 when the president signed a bill that included a new CR (running through February 8). Trump signs bill to end government shutdown, cbsnews.com, 1/23/18.
A recap of the shutdown action follows, plus a good news/ bad news assessment.
I. A long weekend - On Thursday, January 18, the House of Representatives passed a bill that represented the Republican offer to avert a shutdown and provide more time to negotiate about the appropriation bills and DACA.
The bill included reauthorization of CHIP (federal outlays of some $15 billion per year for six years), which Democrats had been demanding and Republicans had been delaying (probably as a bargaining tactic) since September.
The bill didn't take a firm position on spending levels by lifting the budget caps that were blocking utilization of an already enacted increase in defense spending for FY 2018. Why the Pentagon is not celebrating the passage of the defense policy bill, Jamie McIntyre & Travis Tritten, Washington Examiner, 11/17/17.
Never mind that FY 2018 was already 30% over; this was apparently not seen as the time for Republicans to take a firm stand against Democratic demands that the defense spending increases be held up until equal increases were accepted for non-defense spending. Instead, a new CR was proposed that would keep the government running on a stopgap basis until mid-February.
The only solid basis for Democratic opposition was that the House bill didn't include action on DACA, an issue with a March 5 deadline on which Republicans (including the president) had signaled willingness to negotiate. Really, were Democrats determined to shut down the government because they didn't trust the current majority party's promises to support legal relief for this cohort of illegal immigrants (aka "the dreamers")?
The answer turned out to be "yes," in part because Democrats had taken lots of flak from pro-immigration advocates for agreeing to a CR in mid-December. They were also hoping for an assist from the president's erratic participation in the negotiations.
Consider this statement explaining Senator Tom Carper's vote to support a filibuster of the House bill and thereby prevent it from being brought up for discussion. Congress votes against a continuing resolution that fails to adequately address nation's priorities, [Carper] press release, 1/20/18.
•The idea of sending nearly one million Dreamers away from the only home they've ever known is not only heartless, but it flies in the face of our nation's economic self-interest. A key ingredient in continuing our economic expansion is ensuring we have a workforce that enables employers from coast to coast to fill the millions of jobs that are going unfilled today.
•During his meeting with our Democratic leader [Senator Chuck Schumer] in the White House yesterday, President Trump was offered the one thing that he's sought the most-authorization for building a wall along our nation's southern border. Apparently, that's not enough. Walking away from that offer has to make me think that the president really meant what he said when he said previously that our country "needs a good shutdown." In truth, there's no such thing as a "good shutdown."
Similar views were expressed by Senator Schumer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and others who labeled the shutdown they were voting for as the "Trump shutdown."
Meanwhile, Republicans were blaming the "Schumer shutdown" on Democrats. They noted that the House bill had provided for CHIP reauthorization and asserted that there was nothing in this legislation with which Democrats affirmatively disagreed. (The objection, of course, was to what the bill did not contain, namely resolution of the DACA issue.) Press briefing by OMB Director Mick Mulvaney & Legislative Affairs Director Mark Short on the potential government shutdown, whitehouse.gov, 1/19/18.
Democrats soon sensed that things weren't going as they had expected. Many Americans seemed confused as to why the government should be shut down over DACA, and the media seemed inclined to straddle the fence by denouncing both sides. What the shutdown opens up for Congress, usatoday.com, 1/21/18.
What this sorry episode showed is the ongoing decline in civic and patriotic values of our nation's elected officials, who seemed to think the country consists only of their respective right and left wings. [#Advice for Democrats]: Their cause - protecting nearly a million people from deportation to countries they barely know - is worthy, but shutting down the government is not the way to go about achieving it. [#Advice for Republicans]: They need to put some distance between themselves and their mercurial, erratic president.
To the Democrats' chagrin, the president stopped (for the time being) making unforced errors. It would be suggested later that he had played this hand astutely. Trump's marketing genius, Rick Newman, yahoo.com, 1/23/18.
[Particularly] effective were Trump's efforts to paint the Democrats as prioritizing undocumented immigrants over the needs of actual citizens. "The Democrats are turning down safety and security for citizens in favor of services and security for non-citizens," Trump tweeted on the first full day of the shutdown. "Democrats are holding our Military hostage over their desire to have unchecked illegal immigration," he riffed in another tweet.
Democrats reversed course on January 22 and agreed to end the shutdown by approving another CR (until February 8). Their only recompense was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's promise of a full debate of proposals re immigration after the new fiscal deadline. Congress solved the shutdown, but deep spending and immigration disputes remain, Deirdre Shegreen & Eliza Collins, usatoday.com, 1/22/18.
The Senate passed a three-week spending bill on Monday and sent it to the House for final approval, allowing the federal government to reopen Tuesday. Democrats agreed to support the funding bill after winning a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to bring up an immigration bill on Feb. 8 - or before then if there's bipartisan consensus around a specific proposal.
Most observers perceived that Democrats had gotten the worst of the exchange, and some thought they had embarrassed themselves. "Stupidest damn thing I've ever seen": Democrats miscalculate the shutdown, David Drucker, Washington Examiner, 1/23/18.
"It's the stupidest damn thing I've ever seen," a Democratic operative in Washington with ties to Senate leadership said on condition of anonymity. "This is what happens when the caucus gets ginned up and ready to go into battle without thinking through the repercussions."
II. Assessment - No one really wanted a shutdown, certainly not the general public, so its brief duration was predictably seen as "good news." There was also praise for "moderate" senators who had worked over the weekend to discuss the situation, actually listen to each other, and agree that a settlement was needed. Fox News Sunday (Chris Wallace), transcript, 1/21/18.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE): I spent all day yesterday not going to the floor, not going on cable news, not denouncing Republicans, but meeting with them, listening to them, with a small group that grew and grew, and by the end of the day, we had 20 Republican and Democratic senators listening to each other, trying to not just get out of the shutdown, but address and fix some of the underlying problems that have left us with so many of the priorities that have stacked up over the last couple of months. I'm hopeful we can get through this.
It's unclear that such efforts are likely to have much impact, however, any more than prior efforts to organize a "no labels" movement, etc. What election is Joe Lieberman watching? Jim Newell, slate.com, 4/21/16.
Anger and the appetite for breaking the status quo in Washington are absolutely the gusts lifting the campaigns of Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders. But working people across the country are not packing these rallies to demand the sort of technocratic dickering No Labels offers in its new 60-point policy platform, introduced Thursday at a luncheon in Washington's luxury Mayflower Hotel. There has been bipartisan energy linking the anti-establishment bases of both parties this year, which theoretically should please No Labels. That energy, however, has been populist and directed at the sort of Washington elites whom they no longer trust to represent their interests. For today's discontented voters, the sort of ballroom-luncheon centrism practiced for so long by the likes of Lieberman is more the target than the solution.
Expect another "crisis" when the latest CR expires on February 8. Why? Democrats haven't agreed that the appropriation bills for fiscal year 2018 will be enacted before taking up a DACA bill. And despite reports that the two side have basically agreed on fiscal year 2018 spending levels (details unknown), Democrats are expected to demand a DACA deal first. The shutdown is over, but Congress still has a long to-do list, Lisa Desjardins, pbs.org, 1/23/18.
Many sources on Capitol Hill say the two sides have essentially agreed on the level of spending they want. But they will not pass that deal until everything else on this list, especially immigration, is resolved.
It's modestly encouraging that Republicans won the messaging battle over the initial shutdown, but in so doing they failed to pinpoint the problem with their opponents' position. Shoe's on the other foot on shutdown, News Journal, 1/26/18.
The DACA/budget linkage seems blatantly opportunistic. Note that the government budget for fiscal year 2018 is nearly four months late at this point, whereas the DACA deadline won't roll around until March 5th.
Kudos to the News Journal for running our critique of their initial editorial, but they also ran a new editorial that suggested the dreamers are in imminent peril of being deported. Deportations cause some real pain, News Journal, 1/26/18.
Actually (as was announced on January 26), the administration has offered a path to citizenship for the dreamers to be paired with measures to combat illegal immigration. Said measures would include assured funding (not promises of funds to be appropriated later) of $25 billion for a "wall" on the southern border, more border agents, dialing back of "chain migration," an end of the visa lottery system, and a reduction in legal immigration quotas. Further details are expected this week, perhaps in the State of the Union address tomorrow night. Trump immigration proposal could provide path to citizenship for 1.8 million in US illegally, Samuel Chamberlain, foxnews.com, 1/26/18.
Trump had deferred to a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers to craft an immigration proposal, saying he would sign whatever they passed. But as talks on Capitol Hill broke down -- in part because of controversy Trump ginned up using vulgar language to describe other countries -- the White House decided to offer its own framework. The release follows on concerns raised by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that the president had not sufficiently laid out his priorities. One official said the Thursday release represents a plan for the Senate, with the administration expecting a different bill to pass the House.
The new plan has drawn fire from both sides of the aisle, as well as some expressions of support, which arguably suggests that it may be on the right track. But Democrats may prefer to gamble on winning a second shutdown fight, which might result in preserving DACA as an issue for the mid-term elections rather than resolving the issue now. Trump's immigration tug-of-war, James Antle, Washington Examiner, 1/27/18.
•Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., described Trump as asking Congress to "tear apart our legal immigration system and adopt the wish list that anti-immigration hardliners have advocated for years" in exchange for a DACA fix.
•Democrats believe they are better positioned to win the second shutdown fight, in part because the onus will be on Trump and the Republicans to do something about DACA. Yet the last shutdown did not produce a clear-cut PR victory for the Democrats and made red-state Democratic senators - including some of the ten [who are] seeking re-election this year in states Trump carried in 2016 - nervous.
Meanwhile, what about the continuing failure to approve the government's appropriation bills? The ultimate consequences are all too predictable, and they have not been explained to the American people. Don't count on the president to keep his veto pen handy either, because that's not likely to happen. Get ready for a congressional budget blowout, Stephen Moore, townhall.com, 1/23/18.
. . . Republicans have fallen into the Democrats' fiscal trap. To secure more money for national defense, Democrats are demanding an equal amount of extra funding for domestic social welfare programs. So to get an additional $108 billion for the Pentagon, the Republicans may agree to another $108 billion-plus in ransom money for domestic agencies. But when all the emergency funding is included, the ratio could be closer to $2 of additional domestic spending for every $1 of increased military funding. What a deal.
So long as appropriation bills can be filibustered in the US Senate, in effect imposing a 60-vote requirement, it's hard to imagine this situation being straightened out. SAFE has suggested a solution, namely abolish the filibuster rule. Consequences of keeping the legislative filibuster, 4/24/17.
Reasonable minds often differ about priorities, and there will always be give and take in the budgeting process. Giving the minority an effective veto on spending bills, however, may do more to encourage "logrolling" than to discourage wasteful spending.
Other conservatives seem to be gradually coming around to our view on this matter. The days of the filibuster are numbered, Philip Klein, Washington Examiner, 1/25/18.
The default assumption that the next time Democrats control Congress and the White House they'll kill the filibuster is prompting a growing number of conservatives to argue in favor of striking first. "I think if the Democrats ever regain the majority, they'll end legislative filibuster," [Sen. Ted] Cruz predicted. "That's where their conference is. And it doesn't make any sense for it be a one-way ratchet - for us to have our hands tied and for them to be able to pass with a simple majority."
The president has also expressed support for abolishing the filibuster - as in a recent tweet. Trump calls for "nuclear option" to end shutdown, newsmax.com, 1/21/18.
"Great to see how hard Republicans are fighting for our Military and Safety at the Border. The Dems just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked," Trump tweeted. "If stalemate continues, Republicans should go to 51% (Nuclear Option) and vote on real, long term budget, no C.R.'s!"
This option to win the next round should be seriously considered by Republicans as the clock ticks down to February 8.
#There is a sort of "statistical" distribution, I believe, about the principles people hold dear. The peak of that distribution and width of its shoulders are hard to pin down, which makes it difficult to obtain a "majority" on anything.
The Republican's actions reflect that uncertainty, in my opinion. The Democrats are so ideologically driven that they "behave" as if their "principles" are easy to act on during political decision times.
I know there was a "strategy" meeting (just days after Trump's win) among the people who really drive the Democrats, during which the strategy that we see them deploying today was set up. My take on the strategy was: Oppose Trump relentlessly, on every issue, at every level.
The Republicans seem incapable of achieving similar clarity, but they do seem to have a short-term goal: Unseat Trump in 2020 and work to undo whatever he had done in his first term. Hopefully, wind up with majorities in both houses and retain power themselves. That explains for me why with majorities in each chamber, Republicans behave as JERKS. The future of the country is at stake, literally, and we may not see another opportunity like this in many years. They seem to live in la-la-land...!!!
That sums things up for me. Quite depressing, based on my sense of the kind of future that the Democrats are aiming for. It would resemble the situation described in "1984"… including global government and the dismemberment of America as we know her. - SAFE member (DE)
#I'm anxious to hear Trump's speech tomorrow night . . . hope he sticks to his monitor. - Family connection