What Is ‘Fair’ Deal?
Terry H. Schwadron
Jan. 28, 2019
So, who wants to bet that 18 congressional conference committee members actually will hammer out an agreement in three weeks that can meet approval from President Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi?
The next step is handing the Wall/No Wall decision to eight senators from the Appropriations Committee, headed by Richard Shelby, R-AL, split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, and 10 House Appropriations Committee members headed by Rep. Nancy Lowry, D-NY.
They have less than three weeks, of course, to come up with a compromise, since both houses of Congress would have to pass it by the Feb. 15 deadline. Or, this being Washington and Congress, they could simply demand more time. Of course, to hear the president and his spokesmen, like Chief of Staff Mike Mulvaney on the political shows yesterday, agreement with Trump should a piece of cake because so many rank-and-file Democrats have come to him to say they will support a Wall. They just haven’t managed to say so out loud.
All the while, naturally, nervous federal employees will resume their jobs this week with one eye peeled on resolving their month’s worth of unpaid bills and the other on the uncertainties of another interruption just three weeks away. As Trump has vowed, if there is no “fair” compromise — in other words, one that underwrites a Wall or other steel slat construction — he will once again shut down those federal agencies, put employees on furlough again, or invoke the most rare “emergency” declarations that allow a president to juggle the federal budget to get his own priorities at the top of spending requests.
There, that ought to show everyone he didn’t cave.
That emergency declaration is legally shaky, according to lots of quoted experts, and certainly would spawn court challenges since it would mean that the President was acting in place of Congress in deciding how federal money should be spent.
Whatever happens in private, where one hopes that there is actual negotiation, there will be a lot of statements like this from Senator Shelby: “The Democrats have stated that once the government was reopened, they would be willing to negotiate in good faith on significant investments in border security, including a physical barrier. As a member of the Homeland Security conference committee, I hope that this continuing resolution will provide us the time to work out our differences in a fair and thoughtful manner and reach a bipartisan consensus on border security.”
It’s just that kind of practical thinking that is going to cut through the Gordian knots.
The only hint about the coming talks has been the suggestion that Homeland Security officials are going to provide detailed information about various areas along the border, in an attempt to describe current behavior against historic trends, and to suggest what type of tool — Wall, technological or more human patrol — might work best in each section of the border. Actually, that would be a victory for all of us, to devise policy decisions based on information rather than on floating campaign promises that may or may not have any basis in reality.
Everyone on these committees promises to support some kind of border security spending. Democrat James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the №3 House Democrat, told reporters this past week that lawmakers in his party were prepared to spend that much on a border security package that would include what he called a “smart wall,” featuring drones, sensors and more Border Patrol agents. And even President Trump has now said that he did not expect 2,000 miles of Wall.
I would hope then that the committee build three models:
The first might pose the question of what the price might be for Democrats to support a proposal that has elements of Wall included. Temporary delays for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) are clearly not going to work. But permanent acceptance, including a path to citizenship, might be enough to win enough Democratic votes. The best compromise that includes a wall is one that invites opponents’ votes by widening the full array of the administration’s attack on immigrants in the workplace, that recognizes the realities through more open paths to asylum and naturalization.
A second would be the no-Wall option, complete with a section-by-section set of recommendations of exactly what the best tools that are not walls might look like.
The third might really delight congressional love for euphemisms by describing non-wall elements as actual construction.
What this committee should do is to endorse legislation already being drafted to keep the government from allowing for long shutdowns by eliminating the kind of broad furloughs we just saw, and to severely limit the presidential use of those emergency powers. Part of the challenge in all of this is for Congress to rise to be the co-equal governmental partner with the White House.
In the meantime, someone needs to remind the president that he has lost this battle, and that a fair compromise is one that will help the general goal of border security without necessarily seeing hundreds more miles of concrete or steel. Otherwise, there will be no compromise or “fair” resolution of an issue that seems to not be able to win majority support in the country.
As things stand now, any actual wall construction that a conference committee will accept will necessarily have to be extremely targeted to specific areas where other means will not suffice. That means that the White House problem is to persuade, not to bombast and to threaten federal employees with more furlough.