Governing — or Not — on the Edge

Terry H. Schwadron

Jan. 18, 2018

The federal government may shut down tomorrow, because politicians, particularly Republicans, are more concerned with following ideologies than they are with doing their jobs.

Indeed, they see holding onto ideology as their job, apparently even if it means that they are putting the country’s operations at risk. It raises the question: Isn’t keeping the government running a pretty good test of whether the Republicans know how to govern?

Actually, politicians probably see their main job as winning re-election, which means remaining loyal to big donors who indeed do believe in ideology. After all, donors don’t have to make sure that planes run on time, that meat inspectors are keeping food safe or that national parks stay open. Actually, donors might welcome a relief from enforcement of remaining consumer rules or FDA oversight.

Barring a last-minute arrangement to further postpone or even come up with a compromise to keep your taxes working, they all can take part in their favorite pastime — blaming each other.

Back in the olden days a month ago, Republicans decided to duck any fight that might imperil the tax bill and postponed that budget reckoning day until tomorrow.

Instead, of course, we’re wrapped up in a rapt discussion about which vulgarity the president uttered to disparage El Salvador, Haiti and African nations as part of an immigration discussion. And listen to the president deny that his statements make him a racist. We must entertain Republican congressmen who have forgotten how to tell the truth about the president’s remarks as a means to protect 45, and listen to offended Democrats who are shocked that intemperate words are getting in the way of fixing the Dreamers/DACA immigration issue that the president himself created as a problem last September.

The White House signaled yesterday that it is okay with another temporary postponement of the budget question, though that is not its first choice.

Here’s the problem for Republicans: They need a few Democratic votes for approval of any spending bill beyond a very temporary reprieve. Understanding this, Democrats have set as a price of their support a resolution of protections for 800,000 immigrants in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act. Republicans mistake their role: They are the ones asking for a few votes, which you get through compromise.

So, while Republicans hold majorities in the House, Senate as well as the White House, they want to talk early and often about blaming Democrats if there is no spending approval.

Everyone on both sides seems aware that allowing a government shutdown would not prove helpful in their reelection campaigns later this year. We are so focused on the discord that we are not hearing that the White House wants a budget that hikes military support as the same time as build a Wall at the same time as cut federal agencies, while ignoring issues like child health insurance.

As citizens, perhaps we can look at this mess without using the word, “blame.”

Should we be able to expect that Congress and the White House keep the government functioning? You bet. Should we suggest that majority Republicans have somehow failed if they cannot lead Democrats to a compromise? On the whole, yes. They admit they may not be able to do it themselves, even in the House. Are Democrats sufficiently open to compromise to find reason to keep the government open? The bipartisan bill proposed to resolve DACA says yes.

Democrats, including leader Nancy Pelosi, are quick to point out that Republicans have more to lose in a shutdown. Republicans do control both houses of Congress as well as the presidency.

But Trump has tweeted, of course, “The Democrats want to shut down the Government over Amnesty for all and Border Security,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday. “The biggest loser will be our rapidly rebuilding Military, at a time we need it more than ever. We need a merit based system of immigration, and we need it now! No more dangerous Lottery.”

Actually, the military is exempted in a government shutdown, but spending on veteran’s affairs, for example, does stop. And actually, it is Republican defense hawks, furious that leaders \have yet to reach a budget accord to increase Pentagon funding, who have threatened to vote against the measure.

Nevertheless, it underscored that to Trump, compromise means agreeing with him, whatever he happens to be backing at the moment. Thus, Democrats are to blame.

Among Republicans, Sen. Linsey O. Graham (R-SC) recognized that blaming Democrats is wrong-headed. “To believe that you can successfully blame Democrats for a shutdown over the DACA debate is naïve,” Graham told The Washington Post.

It was President Trump who rejected the key bipartisan proposal on Dreamers, and started the brouhaha over his use of vulgar language and his preference for white countries of origin or those that are majority black or brown. Those differences, in turn, have turned enough Democrats against support for a continuing approval for federal spending as to make it difficult for the Republican majority to guarantee the outcome by themselves.

“I told him that the President Trump that showed up Tuesday is the one that can lead the country on multiple levels,” Graham said. “I think the president realizes that it takes a bipartisan solution. But you’re not going to get a deal by tweeting, you’re going to get one by talking.”

Complicating all this are the approaching fall elections. There are 10 Democratic senators on the ballot this November in states that are heavily white, that apparently have little sympathy for undocumented immigrants and that Trump won. Many of these lawmakers have no desire to force a government shutdown over an immigration issue. Some of the Democrats’ most at-risk seats are in Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia and North Dakota. Still others, including Senators Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, are considering presidential runs and want to make immigration a central plank for themselves, heightening the importance of the issue.

If nine Democrats side with Senate Republicans, Congress could pass yet some kind of short-term spending bill that would end the shutdown threat for now as negotiations continue. In December, 19 House Democrats voted to postpone a shutdown.

Where is true White House leadership? Where are Republican congressional leaders?


Journalist, musician, community volunteer