Roundtable – Government Shutdown

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 January 21, 2018.

 

Tom Rich, Editor-in-Chief

Welcome to the Roundtable, Torchlight’s discussion of news and events. Political junkies around the country have found themselves with both less and more fodder this weekend as the object of their interest, the federal government, shut down after Democrats and Republicans failed to arrive at a budget deal. The two provisions that played a central roll in the shutdown were funding for CHIP, which provides health care for children in low-income families, and a solution for DACA, which protects immigrants who were brought here illegally as children from deportation. Blame is flying thick and fast on the Sunday shows, so my first question for the panel: who brought about this shutdown, and why?

 

Christopher Dahlin, Politics Editor

It’s pretty clear there was a deal before Trump (who had said previously he’d sign anything put on his desk) blew up the compromise. Probably at the behest of Stephen Miller, Senior Adviser and white nationalist, and Chief of Staff Kelly, an immigration hardliner.

 

Tom

All of whom were opposed to including DACA in the deal, as I understand it, correct?

 

Christo

Exactly

 

Josh Kyu Saiewitz, Senior Managing Editor

Let’s wind the clocks back a bit and provide more context. This is a fight that was absolutely engineered by Trump and GOP Congressional leadership. Last September Trump was talking about how he should force a shutdown in order to get his wall; and between then and now, they’ve all been marshalling their pieces to make that happen. Trump took executive action to end DACA, telling Congress to come up with a fix; meanwhile, Congressional Republicans declined to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program, imperiling the health care access of nine million children. Instead of passing a long-term budget using the reconciliation process, which is what that process exists to assist, the GOP spent their chances failing to repeal the ACA and successfully giving tax breaks to the wealthy.

This has led to a perfect storm of expiring and expired priorities, each representing large groups of real Americans, whom the GOP is attempting to use as hostage in order to get policy goals out of the Democrats, whose votes they need in the Senate to pass another Continuing Resolution to fund the government.

Mitch McConnell tweeted out a supervillainous “You can only choose one of them, webhead!” threat for Dems to choose either CHIP or DACA–a false choice, since both CHIP, DACA, and for that matter funding the government has bipartisan support in Congress and with the public.

This truly despicable scheme went awry when it turned out that Trump, and the hardliners on immigration who have his ear, proved unable to take yes for an answer, torpedoing the Graham-Durbin compromise bill out of pure racist discomfort at letting in too many people from so-called “shithole” countries.

GOP leadership could have put that compromise CR up for a vote anyway, and dared Trump to veto it, but instead preferred to wait until our senile Commander-in-Chief managed to indicate a firm position on the issue, which doesn’t quite seem possible.

But according to the NYT it’s all the Democrats’ fault, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 

Tom

I wanna dig into one of your points a little more there, Josh. You mentioned the fight being engineered by the GOP and Trump, as far back as Trump’s executive action on DACA last fall. But Trump, at least in the mainstream and left portions of the internet, has been seen not as a cunning schemer but as a flailing incompetent. Is this a case of Trump demonstrating a little more capacity to plan than we thought, or a the GOP leadership in Congress taking advantage of several fortuitous flailings? Or am I misunderstanding something?

 

Josh

I don’t think Trump is the brains behind this operation; he made an instinctive play to end DACA, which he would like to end anyway, because racism. Then Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell acted to back his play–remember, they set the legislative agenda with barely any leadership from the White House on everything from both reconciliation packages to things like not renewing CHIP (which they could have done with large majorities at any point in the past few months). In my Sinister Six analogy, Ryan and McConnell are the scheming Doc Ock and Green Goblin and Trump is the Rhino who yells things and then runs headfirst into buildings.

(Note: apparently Rhino, Doctor Octopus, and Green Goblin have never actually been in the Sinister Six at the same time, and half the time Rhino was a robot. This just goes to show how terrible the foes are that the Democrats currently face.)

 

David Spitzley, Contributing Writer

I’ve been worried about how a shutdown would play since before the holidays. My concern is the Dems would get hit for it and burn their current generic polling advantage. I think the odds are now in the Dems’ favor for two reasons. First, by putting two vulnerable populations on the line rather than just the Dreamers, the calculation behind the shutdown is much more obvious, and even gives something for those who don’t give a damn about the Dreamers something to be peeved about. Second, the fact the GOP couldn’t even line up their own people to vote for a bill written without Democratic input gives the Dems the opening to ask “why was this even our responsibility to pass?”

 

Christo

I think the timing here helps as well. Exactly one year since inauguration does not make Trump look like an effective leader.

 

Josh

History, particularly the 2013 shutdown, which was much more absurd (Ted Cruz demanding Obama allow Republicans to repeal the president’s signature legislative achievement), suggests that shutdowns don’t have a significant long-term political cost, as following that shutdown the GOP went on to do very well in the 2014 midterms. That may be doubly true in the Trump era, when the news comes so fast and furious that this shutdown may well be forgotten entirely for most people inside of a month.

 

Tom

Well, that addressed my mid-Roundtable turn question of “what’s the electoral significance of all this?” So let’s get a bit philosophical in here. Shutdowns are really only good for “Want to watch the world burn” and “chaos is a ladder” sorts; nobody interested in good governance is happy when the government shuts down. But the possibility is baked into the way the budget system is structured right now. Are there any changes that either have been or might be proposed to make shutdowns a less usable tactic? Or are they part of the nature of the beast?

 

Christo

Unfortunately, because of the way the American legislative schedule is composed, they are an inherent part of it. Now, in theory since both parties are arguing in good faith, they would be able to come to an agreement, but it’s been obvious for awhile that not everyone here argues in good faith. McConnell’s tweet above exemplifies that. It’s disgusting, and incredibly corrosive to governance.

 

Josh

Shutdowns are a government failure state. The solution is not to somehow make them impossible (automatic CRs until legislative action is taken), because then the system would just fail in some other way. The solution is to fix the aspects of our system and situation that have led to the failure state–everything from the electoral college to gerrymandering and voter suppression that have allowed a nihilistic should-be minority party to cleave to just enough power to prevent the government from functioning.

 

David

Keep in mind, though, that from the perspective of McConnell’s side, his tweet was contrasting 9 million innocents with 700,000 criminals, so what the Dems view as holding two hostages at gunpoint is in the GOP view showing that the Dems are siding with the bad guys over babies, hand waving the fact the GOP put the babies in danger in the first place.

 

Josh

The only difference between the children who need health insurance and the children brought here by their parents is that the latter group have grown up. That doesn’t make them criminals, no matter how much the GOP bloviates and race baits about illegal immigration. This isn’t even a Democrat/Republican thing–DACA has bipartisan support in Congress and in polling, and all sides have stated that they want a solution that protects the Dreamers, including Trump.

 

Christo

CHIP has overwhelming support as well. The problem here is the bullshit politicking, not the actual policy. We know what the solution is, they just have to not be complete racist garbage and sign the damn thing.

 

David

But the GOP base is less than enthused about both, as are the donors who are likely to be the job market for any of the GOP Congressfolk booted in this year’s election.

 

Josh

That they have reasons to be supervillains doesn’t make them any less dangerous or unfair when they take hostages.

 

Christo

DACA actually is relatively popular with the republican base, if not quite 50. I can’t remember the last poll numbers.

 

David

How do you achieve a political solution when there’s disagreement over who qualifies as a villain and who is a hostage?

 

Josh

Most political disagreements are pitched at that scale. You work respectfully with the other side to come up with a solution everybody feels okay with… and then the racist president tells you to go fuck yourself. If there was an easy solution we wouldn’t be shut down right now.

 

Tom

No easy road to get to the obvious solution that, as far as we can tell, most Americans want. Amazing. Politics is so much fun. We have about ten minutes left, everyone; final thoughts?

 

Christo

I predict for this one to last a week or so. DACA and CHIP are too popular to really work as a one or the other Batman Forever thing. The only sticking point, really, is the president, and he a) has no strategy, and b) has no resilience, just petulance.

 

David

I think the main danger here as This will get framed so partisanly that the costs of compromise rise high enough to delay a fix for weeks.

 

Tom

I keep coming back to the fact that the Republicans have majorities in both houses and control the White House. They should, near as I can tell, not have a difficult road to finding a solution here. Elections have consequences, one of which is a blame-target on your back when you win them.

 

Josh

I think I am overall hopeful that Democrats will come out of this with a real policy win and the political wind at their backs. Their voters pushed for them to take a stand and they did. Trump’s shithole comment made it very clear why he’s backed away from a bipartisan deal, and it doesn’t seem like most people are buying the GOP framing on this (which seems to be, “If we had 9 more Senators we could learn to tie our shoes without those darn Dems tripping us all the time”). I think ultimately, Trump ran on a platform of “I will make government work again,” and he very visibly has not, and that’s not going to help him down the line. Dems have played a bad hand pretty well and with grit and unity and I’m gratified for it. Hopefully we get the government back on line soon, and with protections in place for the millions of real people living in America who just need health care and jobs and support from their government.

 

Tom

And we’ll have to leave it there. Thanks as always, everyone, for a lively conversation!

 

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