Shutdown? They’re Talking $$

Terry H. Schwadron

Feb. 8, 2018

It seems that the president was confused when he called — repeatedly — for a shutdown of the government if Democrats did not swallow whole his hard-line proposals on immigration.

At a roundtable discussion about MS-13 gang violence and illegal immigration on Tuesday, the president said that he would “love to see a shutdown” over immigration if Democrats did not see the light. “If we have to shut it down because the Democrats don’t want safety . . . let’s shut it down,” the president said. He repeated the word “shutdown” several times.

The issue, however, is that unlike two weeks ago when Democrats tied immigration issues related to the fate of “Dreamers” to continued government operations, remarkably, the two parties seem to be on the verge of a rare bipartisan agreement to extend spending operations for two years, a deal that raises both military money and funds for social programs.

The proposals may be voted on as soon as today in the Senate, and sent on to the House, where Republican conservatives still vow a fight over increased spending and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi wants a commitment like the Senate’s for a vote on immigration.

The issues now have moved to more traditional arguments about deficit spending and money — issues that seemingly were blown out of the water by Republican passage of a huge, unpaid-for tax cut bill.

Reacting just as a citizen, I’m baffled that the president is threatening a government shutdown at all, that he doing so two weeks after chastising Democrats for forcing a weekend shutdown of the government, or that he is making the threat when the legislation on the table makes his comments almost irrelevant.

The New York Times put it more delicately: “Trump’s threat of a shutdown seemed to have little effect on the delicate negotiations on Capitol Hill to raise spending caps on military and nonmilitary spending — an agreement that, if passed by both houses of Congress, would pave the way for long-term deal to fund the government.”

Apart from noting Trump’s negotiating style that insists on insulting whoever is on the other side rather than wooing them, am I nuts to think that the president ought to be aware of the nature of legislative deals that — outside of immigration — deliver to him, to both sides, to the military, and to the country — results that will end the recent habit of short-term financing for a government altogether?

On cable television, the talk was open and direct: Is Congress acting, just ignoring the president?

Something here seems more than a little wrong.

Yes, it is crazy to think that immigration rules and the fate of hundreds of thousands of individuals caught up in the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals (DACA), a set of issued that has been fanned into a legislative conflagration, should be addressed directly by Congress. The most practical answer for sorting through the far-flung alternative proposals has seemed to come from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who seems ready to allow a free-for-all on the Senate floor next week. Basically, he said, the first proposal, good or bad, to win 60 votes will win the day.

Clearly that is not how the president wants things to go on the immigration front. He wants what he wants — guaranteed funds for a Wall, a rewrite of rules involving family immigration and visa programs — and nothing less. Oh yeah, he also wants more money for the military. In return, he is willing to consider a stringent path to citizenship for 1.8 million DACA individuals. In pursuit of his immigration ideas, Trump called the Tuesday meeting to beat up some more on the existence of the MS-13 criminal gang, which he somehow links to 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. (Separately, Chief of Staff John F. Kelley Jr. managed to make emotional reactions worse by saying that some eligible Dreamers were either too fearful or “too lazy” to sign up for the program, which requires giving personal information and location to the government that now wants to deport them.)

On Capitol Hill, there has been a recognition that linking all of this to the federal budget was proving just a bit too much to stuff into a singular bill. There had been separate arguments about spending even outside of immigration, arguments that seems to have been settled by a proposal to extend military spending by $80 billion and social programs by $60 billion.

Remarkably, then, while Trump continues to talk about shutdowns and more obstructiveness by Democratic foes, down the street, Congress actually was working out a true bipartisan approach to solving at least one of the major problems on the table. It’s not done yet, but at least the direction is clear to us citizens.

So, question of the day: Should I not be able to trust that the White House and the Congress are at least talking about the same issues at the same time? Is the White House so insular that it simply is operating on a different wavelength than the Congress?

There were the now-routine White House rewrites about the president’s remarks to make it sound as if the president, fully aware of the congressional discussion, just wanted to underscore the importance of including money for the Wall in any spending bills.

Of course, that’s not what he said.

It should not be so difficult to understand what the president is talking about. Thankfully he also wants a parade for the military and for himself. I can understand that. Maybe he should have a parade to welcome immigrants.


Journalist, musician, community volunteer