THE SHUTDOWN of roughly 25 percent of the federal government continued into a sixth day Thursday, with little or no evidence that President Trump and his Democratic opponents on Capitol Hill are moving any closer toward a deal that would break the impasse. Of the roughly 800,000 federal workers directly affected, about 350,000 sit home on furlough while the rest, deemed “essential,” continue working; none of them can get paid. The hardship for them, and for those ordinary citizens who need access to agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service or the national parks, may last into the new year, even past the start of the new Congress on Jan. 3. This shutdown is perhaps even more senseless and frustrating than previous ones because the way out is, and has been, perfectly obvious for weeks.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Mr. Trump wants money for his pet border-wall project so badly that he’s willing to stage a partial government shutdown. Democrats should let him have funding for the wall in return for a permanent fix to the immigration status of the “dreamers,” people brought to this country as children without authorization but who have been living otherwise lawful and productive American lives since then.
This would be a grand bargain that would give both sides something to brag about and, in fact, simply calls on them to do a version of a deal that both Democrats and Republicans have at least tentatively embraced in the past. Mr. Trump says he wants to resolve the dreamers’ plight; Democrats have, in the past, voted for enhanced “border security,” including physical barriers.
In that sense, there’s no real issue of principle preventing a bipartisan deal, just the politics of base-pleasing polarization. Congress seriously entertained immigration grand bargains with wall-for-dreamers deals at their core in February and March , but the White House undid them by demanding additional restrictions on legal immigration designed to please the Republican base. That dynamic still informs Mr. Trump’s approach to the current shutdown; his position hardened after he came under attack from right-wing personalities such as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, who accused him of contemplating a sellout. Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, likely next House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), newly beholden to left-wing members of her soon-to-be majority House caucus, has branded a wall “immoral” and sworn that she won’t approve a dollar for it under any circumstances.
Neither side may have as much leverage in this battle as they think. The risks for the GOP are defined by the fact that the border wall remains broadly unpopular outside of Mr. Trump’s base. As for the Democrats, they feel less pressure to deal because of a federal court ruling that has protected the dreamers from deportation. That ruling is by no means permanent, however, especially now that conservatives enjoy a solid 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court. A prolonged battle with Mr. Trump over simply funding the government threatens to detract from the new House majority’s legislative agenda for 2019 before Democrats even have a chance to unveil it.
Both parties are still acting as though prolonging a shutdown, and avoiding the wall-for-dreamers deal, is in their political interest, when in fact it’s the deal that would really benefit them in the long run. It would also be the right thing to do.