4/23/17

Readers of these annals know that as of late I have a new bugaboo: the filibuster. So, here is another installment.

Unless Congress passes a new authorization act by Friday, April 28th, the US government will shutdown.

Back in December of last year when Obama was still in the White House, the Republicans, who controlled the congress; the Democrats, who had filibuster power in the Senate; and the White House agreed to pass what is known as a Continued Resolution (CR) to fund the government until the end of April with the assumption that following the Trump inauguration, his administration would have the time to deal with the budget resolution in order to fund the US government.

The normal financial year for the US government is October to September, so a new budget and appropriations will need to be debated before then and the CR being discussed now is from April 28th to September 30th.

The Trump administration indicated their priorities and the major issues in the current CR are:

  • Funding the border wall
  • Increased spending on ICE (in essence, border patrols and detention-deportation)
  • Increasing defense spending
  • Commensurate cuts in various non-defense, discretionary, programs (EPA, Foreign aid, etc.)
  • Eliminating payments to insurance companies for losses they incur on ObamaCare—something the Obama administration paid basically illegally, as Congress did NOT appropriate money for these payments.
  • Defunding Planned Parenthood (not a Trump priority, but a strong conservative Republican one)

The House can pass the CR with all these changes without any problem, given the Republican majority there.

Once it gets to the Senate, Democrats have the filibuster power and are threatening to reject the CR and, thus, cause a government shutdown.

A government shutdown is significantly less threatening than it sounds. No essential services are shutdown and many, like me, think that it is actually not a bad exercise, as it does show that life can continue with a much smaller government intervention in our lives.

However, cynicism aside, this is not a long term solution, of course, and prior government shutdowns were always resolved sooner rather than later. I believe that in the mid-1990s—when there was an almighty conflict between a newly elected Republican majority to the House and a fairly progressive president, Bill Clinton—the longest shutdown lasted about a month. The US survived.

Many, indeed most, if not all, pundits and so called experts on the left and on the right (the few that even exist on the right…) keep recycling the fact that it is always Republicans that get blamed for government shutdown. While it is true in the media because of the built in bias against Republicans, the actual electoral results following such shutdowns do not support this assertion.

Following both modern era shutdowns, the one in the 1990s mentioned above and especially the one in the 2013 election results the following year, showed Republican gains. Admittedly, in both cases it was a Republican Congress versus a Democratic president. Here we will have the reverse situation: a shutdown generated by Democrats in Congress using their filibuster power versus a Republican president. It is possible, although not proven, that the public ultimately blames the president, from either party, for a shutdown.

So what are the Republicans and the White House to do?

They should negotiate. No doubt about it. Mick Mulvaney, OMB Director, is already on record in the media as saying that the White House offered Democrats a compromise. He suggested that the administration will agree to $1 of spending on ObamaCare “illegally dispensed” insurance company subsidies for every $1 spent on border wall and patrols.

I suppose that there are other areas that can be compromised on. As an example, the de-funding of Planned Parenthood can be shelved. It is not even acceptable, I think, to at least one of the Republican women senators (by the way, why?? Why is it not right to defund PP and give the money—the exact same amount—to other community clinics where women can find the exact same services that PP provides, with the exception of abortion, which is illegal to be funded by the Federal budget anyway)?

They can also increase the multiple of $1 : $1 to, say, $2 or $3 on Obamacare for every $1 on border issues. Ultimately, the way to repeal and replace ObamaCare is to do it through the proper process and not to catch the insurance companies with their pants down, although they richly deserve that for doing a Faustian bargain with the Obama administration.

However, it seems that Democrats are hell bent on refusing any change whatsoever in the current spending authorization, i.e. they want a simple no changes CR. Democrats are motivated by:

  • Their “resistance” slogan
  • Their hard base demands
  • Their real disagreement with the White House priorities
  • But mostly by the notion, mentioned above, that the blame for the shutdown will be laid at Republicans’ feet.

As I mentioned above, that last notion is a false narrative created by Democrats and the media but, like many of those narratives, it has taken hold and everyone believes it even if the facts are different: “do not confuse me with facts—I made up my mind” mentality.

So, what can Republicans and the White House do about it? Ultimately, they need to put their foot down and demand that the president’s priorities and agenda be reflected in the CR. Was it not former President Obama, in one of his more arrogant moments (he was so arrogant that maybe it was not one of his more arrogant moments, just normal moment), that coined the phrase: “elections have consequences and I won”? It is very appropriate for Trump to remind Democrats of that fact and demand that they allow his agenda to go through or otherwise shut the government down.

Some Republicans, especially the “stupid caucus” (my terminology for these naïve and, indeed, stupid Republicans of which there are too many unfortunately) are supporting the idea of giving in to the Democrats’ dictatorial position, i.e. going for a no-change CR reflecting the priorities and agenda formed when Obama was in the White House. These Republicans are promoting the notion that this CR is only for 5 months anyway and that it is not worth fighting over. They say that the place to fight will be the annual budget and appropriation bills due on September for the full financial year 2018.

The two questions that these Republicans need to answer are:

  • What would make Democrats act differently in September than they do now? Why do they think that Democrats will change their position then? Fresh from a huge victory now (if indeed this way is pursued), Democrats will be emboldened and simply reject any budget / appropriation acts in September too. From their point of view, it will be a fantastic result if the entire Trump presidency will be based on CRs from now until January 2021. Why not? If they can cow Republicans now by the threat of a government shutdown, why not repeat it again in September…and again and again and again?
  • Would a government shutdown 12 months before the 2018 election be any better for Republicans than one now, 17 months before such elections?

The answers are obvious: nothing and no.

So what are Republicans to do in this conundrum? It is actually very simple and should not even be debatable:

  • The House should pass a full blown CR reflecting the entire Republican/Trump agenda in full.
    In the Senate, Democrats should be offered concessions along the lines I mentioned above but not too much. Enough to show good faith but do not go all the way to your maximum give. Leave some ammunition for negotiations after the shutdown.
  • If Democrats reject these good faith suggestions, Republicans should allow the government to shut down.
  • Republicans need to try and do a better job of putting the blame for the shutdown where it really is – Democratic intransigence and extremism. They are unlikely to succeed in the media but at the very least they need to try and get the message through to voters.
  • During the first week or two of the shutdown, negotiations should continue and Republicans should continue to show good faith and increase the concessions to the Democratic position.
  • If even after, say, 3-4 weeks of shutdown, Democrats continue to show little flexibility and reject the notion that the President is entitled to follow his agenda—after all, he was elected based on this agenda—if Democrats continue to over play their hand, it will be time then to go for the jugular—another nuclear option. ELIMINATE the EFFFFING filibuster on legislation, on acts, exactly as they recently did on Supreme Court nominations.

 
I wrote about it many times recently see:

During the “nuclear option” debate a few weeks ago, Senate Majority Leader McConnell undertook to never change the rules for legislation. It was a mistake and he will now need to eat a little humble pie, but in the face of totally outrageous behavior by Democrats if they indeed overplay their hand as I suspect that might, in the face of a continued government shutdown due to Democrats’ total rejection of the agenda the President was elected upon—will there ever be more justified circumstances to do that once and for all?

Republicans cannot give in to blackmail. They should try to negotiate and take the shutdown for a few weeks but, if at the end, Democrats refused to budge—eradicate the … filibuster.