What a mess.
Last night, a majority in the House voted in support of another four-week budget patch, the fourth one in a row by my count. But the continuing resolution (CR) requires 60 votes in the Senate, and Democrats, along with a couple of Republicans, appear to have the votes to block it. That could mean the government partially shuts down at midnight tonight, though there’s some talk of an even shorter-term patch — one lasting a few days — to give them time to figure out a compromise.
I think there’s some interest in that latter path — a few days’ respite — but it’s not obvious what changes in a few days. Meanwhile, we’re left with extreme dysfunction. We’re a $20 trillion economy with a $4 trillion budget (that’s annual outlays; a bit below two-thirds of that is mandatory spending that is not in play in these appropriations discussions), and we’re talking about running the federal government in four-day budget patches?!?
How did it come to this?
In this narrow case, the inability to get to “yes” is particularly frustrating, because there are majorities in both chambers who agree on solutions to the sticking points, including preventing the deportation of DACA recipients, funding children’s health coverage (CHIP) and lifting the budget caps that have been in place yet have constantly been breached since 2011. (A key demand by Democrats here is “parity”: higher defense spending must be met with a similar boost to nondefense spending.)
Yes, hard-right House Republicans would not support a CR with those elements, but Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) could get a majority vote without them. The Senate would support that package, I believe.
The president is, no surprise, part of the problem. After prompting the showdown over DACA by rescinding it (effective in March), he has been constantly flip-flopping on what to do about it, while poisoning the well with overt, racist commentary.
The current chaos is thus a function of a major leadership vacuum at the top, an unwillingness of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to accept the additions of policies from Democrats whose votes he needs, and perhaps (we’ll see), an unwillingness of Republican leadership to pass the CR with Democratic votes in the House.
McConnell is particularly culpable. He knows there’s bipartisan support for DACA, and yet he keeps blaming the stalemate on “my Democratic colleagues’ demands on illegal immigration, at the behest of their far-left base.” DACA has much more far-reaching support than the “far-left base.” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), for example, has proposed a compromise bill, and with Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.).
But abstracting from this latest episode, the broader dysfunction is strategic. It is not politically neutral. “A pox on both their houses” doesn’t capture its essence. It is driven by too many policymakers who, in so many words, argue that Washington is broken, and they will make sure it stays that way.
While political pundits are actively debating which party will get blamed for the current mess, at the end of the day, the real losers are those of us who firmly believe that a functioning, representative, amply funded public sector is essential to the well-being of the people, especially the majority without the resources to offset market failures with their wealth holdings.
Instead, the majority party under a completely feckless leader is busy transferring the nation’s wealth from the Treasury to the top few percent, adding to the debt while arguing that this higher debt requires cuts in spending on behalf of moderate and low-income households. At the same time, by refusing to compromise with those whose votes they need to keep the government open, they’re turning up the dysfunction dial to further undermine the notion that the government can help meet the challenges we face, those that the private sector will not meet, including rising inequality, climate change, health and retirement insecurity, deteriorating public infrastructure and more.
Again, this hurts all of us who don’t have the wealth to insulate ourselves from the hurt, and when it comes to climate change, even your massive wealth portfolio won’t protect you.
So, ask not for whom the shutdown tolls. It tolls for thee.