Roundtable – Budget Bills and DACA Fixes

The Roundtable is Torchlight staff’s discussion of news and events. The text has been lightly edited for clarity, and some links were added after the fact. This conversation happened on February 10, 2018.

 

Tom Rich, Editor-in-Chief

Welcome to the Roundtable, Torchlight’s discussion of news and events. This week saw an unusual event in D.C.: a budget bill that funds the government for more than the next 20 minutes or so was passed. The deal had a lot of moving parts, and did not, in itself, include a fix for DACA; Republican leaders in Congress promised a vote on such a bill down the road, however. With Senator Rand Paul delivering an overnight speech opposing the bill and Nancy Pelosi delivering a record-length speech demanding DACA reform, whether or not this was a success for the nation is difficult to pick out just from the people involved. So to get a baseline reading, let’s start there: what were the good, bad, and indifferent parts of this deal?

 

Josh Kyu Saiewitz, Senior Managing Editor

Good: funding for Chip extended from 6 years to 10, and billions for everything from rural health clinics to opioid measures. Domestic spending that should be basic, bipartisan government functions but are now wins for Democrats.

Also good: funding the government for longer, and pushing the debt ceiling back a few years. Yay, basic financial stability!

 

Christopher Dahlin, Politics Editor

We should not minimize the breaking of the sequester. It hampered growth during Obama’s presidency, and was basically a stupid idea (nobody could possibly allow this to happen, so let’s pass it!). Yes, this means more money for the Pentagon(and probably not for servicemembers), but it’s still a good.

Also, I am guessing enough Republicans wanted to avoid a debt ceiling fight featuring Trump, they allowed that in there.

 

David Schmitz, Junior Managing Editor

Is it bad that the length of the bill takes away a point of negotiation in the future? Can Republicans now use reconciliation for like triple dipping tax breaks for the ultra rich? I’m not really sure if it’s a great thing to allow the Republicans to appear to be governing properly because we know their stated goals are opposed to the continuation of the progressive system that has been built up over the last two centuries.

 

Christo

Anything that gets Republicans to being somewhat reasonable is a good thing. What we need to watch is if this is a trend, or just a one time thing.

 

Tom

Count me in as similarly happy that the government shutdowns and debt ceiling fights have been pushed further into the future. I’m disappointed that the DACA fix wasn’t in this bill. It’s a nasty bit of political and moral calculus: how do you weigh continually playing chicken with government funding against getting the Dreamers’ horrible situation resolved? I don’t envy the people who had to make that call.

 

Josh

I’m very concerned about DACA, but I’ve come to realize that the root of the problem is the voters themselves being split on this, which is reflected in enough moderate Senate Dems that the party can’t actually successfully maintain a shutdown long enough to potentially get DACA. Some people just aren’t ready to play hardball with the GOP, and I find that frustrating. Once again we’re dealing with that Bernie/Hillary divide, where some people demand extreme measures or they’re out, and others threaten to be out if we use extreme measures. If I’m Dem leadership I might still try and push the progressive side, but you’re right that it’s a tough call, and I’m not convinced they can force their caucus to do it anyway (last time Manchin just threatened to not run, which would be catastrophic given the margins at play in November). So I think the party is doing the best it can with a big tent that includes some people who are either not fired up enough about DACA or not ready to face the reality of Republican intransigence.

 

Christo

The main problem is that we’re in the middle of this. We don’t know how it’s going to work out, so we can’t say this or that strategy is necessarily objectively good or bad, more or less effective. Once we know the contours of whatever the Republicans give for the DACA bill, even that will clarify things. But claiming utter defeat during the campaign is… well there are better ways to lose, but not many.

 

Tom

Good points, guys. I’d like to swing back around to Dave’s comment about the length of the bill and allowing the Republicans more flexibility with reconciliation in the future. I’m not sure I quite followed the potential problem, there; could you expand on it?

 

Dave

Well the fewer pieces of legislation that the party in power has to worry about each term, the easier it is for them to use the rules to their advantage to railroad something that would otherwise be stopped or heavily negotiated. It doesn’t work for everything, but reconciliation is definitely the tool to be used when you can’t get 60 votes in the Senate for your corporate tax holiday bill.

 

Tom

So by taking care of the budget for the next few years, the Republicans now don’t have to use reconciliation to keep the government open, and that means they can use it for other things. Got it; thank you!

 

Josh

The GOP was never going to use reconciliation for anything as boring as keeping the government running. It’s their one chance a year to do something fuckawful without Democratic votes. I realize that strategically it’s better for Democrats if we continue to careen from one crisis to the next, because maybe they can keep extracting concessions; but the reality is that our party as a whole isn’t 100% on board with hostage taking and the Republicans are not 100% on board with sane negotiations. So it’s not a game we can win. I’d rather do what we can this year and hope for a wave in November than continue to risk catastrophe.

 

Christo

In my opinion, they were never planning on using it for the budget anyways. They could have had a budget to go with their tax cuts, but that was clearly nowhere in the priority chain. Basically, I think Josh has it. And the more we have operating government, the better.

 

Dave

I don’t think the wave in November will happen if the Republicans are allowed to have the appearance of competent governance. They start absorbing moderates in that situation and that bolsters their already various electoral advantages.

 

Josh

I don’t know what explains the recent shift in polls toward Trump and generic Republicans, but I don’t think it’s that they appear too competent (except in the sense that passing their tax bill got a few reluctant Rs back on their side). I’m overall frustrated by the inability of Democrats to find a coherent message yet. I don’t think the problem is the state of play, I think they could take what’s happening now and run on it very well if they were savvier about how to do that.

 

Christo

Also, it’s not like the government is at all stable. Between now and november we have months of fridays, and the basic problem the Republicans have will absolutely still be there. I agree with a frustration in Dem messaging, but I think part of it is that they still refuse to believe that the president would just let 1.8 million Americans (and they are Americans) be deported under his watch.

 

Tom

Frustration with Democratic messaging makes sense to me, but doesn’t it also tie back in to the point Josh made earlier about the Democrats having a big tent, and therefore having a hell of a time keeping the whole tent happy? I don’t feel like there’s a single message that unites Joe Manchin Democrats, Elizabeth Warren Democrats, and Barack Obama Democrats. Other than “to hell with Donald Trump,” I suppose, but that doesn’t provide much guidance on which exact budget levers to pull in a given negotiation, since the anti-Trump position necessarily shifts as he shifts.

 

Josh

I don’t think that’s necessarily true

All of those sides of the tent are in favor of health care, are in favor of the 1% not getting tax cuts, are in favor of DACA. The party doesn’t disagree on policy so much as tactics. That makes strategizing very tough but the messaging should be easier: Trump and his Republicans are corrupt people who enrich and shield racists, sexists, and the wealthy from consequences so they can take your money and health care away.

What we don’t have as a party is the kind of messaging discipline to just repeat that all day every day until November—not when Pelosi filibusters a bill she can’t tell her caucus to vote against.

 

Christo

Pelosi was never going to whip against funding the government. Giving her speech was important, it does keep the messaging on DACA, but the problem is that we have about 3 different existential crises going on at any one time, so definitively solving 2 means you have to sacrifice one. The Republicans don’t actually care about any of this, so they dangle the destruction of the national and global economy like a carrot.

I agree that Dems need to get their messaging on point. They have always had that trouble, and probably always will. The fact that they did not have a bunch of “we choose both” stuff ready to go is just embarrassing.

 

Dave

I’m still confused about that Pelosi speech. Was it an effort to convince her caucus to get in line when DACA does come up? And why did Ryan allow it to go on so long? Couldn’t he just say they were moving on to other business? Anyways, I agree the messaging issue is huge. If Democrats could condense the issues to five words or less and then not forget to keep saying it, that’d be super helpful in the coming election.

 

Christo

She wanted to give the message that we aren’t giving up on the dreamers. And there are procedural rules in the House just as there are in the Senate.

 

Tom

We’re just about out of time for today, guys; final thoughts, anyone?

 

Dave

Well my final thought is that I’m about sick of conceding while in power and conceding while out of power and always hoping for something better. It’s time to take control of the message, take control of the government, and do what is right for the good of the people instead of wilting at the slightest breath of cold air.

 

Christo

We’ll see how bad this is as it shakes out. What poison pills are in the immigration bill and so on. But on the whole, part of the reason the dems have a messaging problem is indeed as you said:they widely agree on policy, but not tactics. As soon as they have candidates, their messaging will tighten. Which is not a comfort to those suffering from terrible policy, but it’s what messaging is for. We can’t predict the shape of things in the next 9 months. Trump just tweeted in support of domestic abusers, for gods’ sakes. Which is, unfortunately, not a surprise, but the dynamic we have to live every day.

 

Josh

I just want to point out that, as much as we are frustrated with the Democrats, the true source of our anger here continues to the Trump administration and the toxic GOP that supports it—and specifically in this case that to further the cause of white supremacy, those two groups have created a situation where, if the DACA deadline passes, we will start losing Americans-in-all-but-name at a rapid clip, and we cannot get them back. That is a horrifying prospect, and we’re just hoping desperately that in this situation the only sane people in the room can find a way to win.

 

Tom

On that, I think we can all wholeheartedly agree, and hope for a solution that our descendants won’t curse the lot of us for. That’s all the time we have today; thanks, as always, everyone, for a lively conversation!

 

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