"The worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it. That makes the other guy smell blood, and then you're dead."
~ Donald Trump, “Art of the Deal”
Imagine walking into a car dealership and getting down on your hands and knees frantically pleading for a deal and begging the salesman not to walk away lest you be left without a car? As maniacal as this analogy sounds, it doesn’t fully capture the insanity of what Republicans do during budget battles when they telegraph to Democrats their irrational fear of government shutdowns.
It is precisely weeks such as this one for which voters elected Donald Trump. They were tired of the pre-emptive surrender, flaccid negotiators, and the low expectations of what Republicans should receive from a budget deal when they control Congress, much less all three branches of government.
It’s as if the election never happened. Republicans are continuing to preemptively surrender their leverage on budget battles and evince an incorrigible dread of government shutdowns, even though they now control the White House. Rather than pound the lectern demanding that our values be upheld in this budget — that no taxpayer funding be used for Planned Parenthood, that the president’s immigration order be codified by defunding refugee resettlement, that the border wall be funded — the only thing Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has gotten animated about these days is the need to avoid a government shutdown. As such, Democrats have told Republicans that the only way to avoid a shutdown is for them to agree to their spending levels and policies. Republicans are readily agreeing.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane when Democrats had full control over all three branches of government in the spring of 2009. They had already voted on major priorities, such as the bailouts, stimulus, expansion of government health care, and cap and trade. Then, on March 10, 2009, they had their first budget deadline and got what they wanted. And that was before Arlen Specter became a Democrat and gave them a 60th vote to break the filibuster.
In a reverse dynamic of today, Democrats kicked the FY 2009 budget into the spring of 2009 instead of passing a full year budget in September 2008 so that a Democrat president (they were confident Obama would win) would be able to immediately enact Democrat budget priorities. Rather than threaten to shut down the government from the minority in the Senate, several Republicans voted along with Democrats to pass Obama’s budget. They included some sitting senators, such as, Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Richard Shelby, R-Ala., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who was then a member of the House, also voted for the 2009 Obama omnibus in the lower chamber. After all, the Democrats had won the election.
Fast-forward eight years and Republicans should have the same leverage Democrats did with Obama. Yet, they have failed to enact a single conservative priority with their first 100 days’ political capital. Now, the budget deadline is the last opportunity to use that political capital to score some wins on the border fence, refugees, and Planned Parenthood, and yet they are allowing a Democrat minority to own them.
President Trump has been leading from behind while McConnell and company ignore the election.
A couple of other observations are in order:
- We learned from the 2013 shutdown that the dynamics of a government shutdown are controlled by the executive branch. Obama manipulated the agencies so that they’d shut down national parks and make Republicans feel the pain. President Trump could easily flip the tables on Democrats and use a shutdown to demonstrate which areas of government are meaningless and “non-essential.” Remember, only 17 percent of the government actually closes during a shut down.
- Some GOP hacks are saying that you can’t expect to get everything in life. “You need to compromise and can’t be a purist,” they declare. Aside from the fact that Democrats never compromise when they have all three branches of government, this sentiment lacks any sense of context or proportion concerning our basic expectations. When Republicans are in charge, a budget should reflect their spending priorities and speak to the issues of the time. Of course, we are not going to leverage tax or entitlement reform through a budget funding bill, but it is a no-brainer that simple harmful programs, which lack major fiscal dependency constituencies, such as refugee resettlement and Planned Parenthood would be defunded. Plus, as anyone who studies the “Art of the Deal” would know, one must always begin negotiations demanding more than you want, not less.
- Other GOP hacks are signaling that it’s not worth fighting on this year’s budget; They will do bigger and better things in the FY 2018 budget coming up this fall. Just be patient. But again, the same reason they are scared to fight on a budget even though they control all branches of government will persist next time and every time thereafter. They have already shown Democrats they would rather die than shut down the government.
I remember writing about the 2011 budget battles, when Republicans took back the House, as if it was yesterday. Even with just control of one branch of government, Republicans pledged to defund some of the most egregious aspects of the Democrat agenda, such as Planned Parenthood. It’s on page 28 of the GOP’s 2010 Pledge to America. Yet, we were told to wait for “the next time” and then “the next time”… then we were told that control of Congress was meaningless without control of the White House. Even after videos were released in 2015 showing Planned Parenthood trafficking baby parts, a seminal moment in the 40-year battle over abortion, Republicans still kept taxpayer funding for this abominable private organization.
Now they control it all, and it’s as if nothing changed. President Trump has been leading from behind while McConnell and company ignore the election.
The question conservatives voters must now ask is: At what point does it become clear that this is no longer a question of strategy and process limitation but rather about a party that fundamentally doesn’t share our values?