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Commentary: If a government shutdown occurs, you can thank the media

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) holds a letter written to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), expressing concern about funding cuts to security, veterans, agriculture, and health care, during a news conference Dec. 12 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Al Drago/Getty Images)

The government is about 10 days away from running out of operating funds (again), which means that it's time once again to point fingers about who is to blame for the looming government shutdown.

Predicting these sorts of things is a fool's game, but if I had to lay money down right now, I would say there are at least 50/50 odds that at least a partial shutdown happens on Jan. 19. The reason for this is very simple: The Democrats know that their allies in the media will blame Republicans for the shutdown, no matter what. Since the Democrats know they will have political cover, they have no fear of pulling the lever.

Let's review the bidding: Despite holding neither house of Congress, Democrats can force a shutdown on purely partisan lines because Republicans have already used reconciliation in order to pass the tax reform bill, and under Senate rules, reconciliation can be used only once per fiscal year. Therefore, Democrats in the Senate can filibuster any funding bill they dislike.

Right now, Democrats are threatening to do so over a policy rider (a legislative "fix" for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival recipients) that is totally unconnected to anything pertaining to the actual funding of government operations. There's every indication that President Donald Trump and Republican leadership in Congress are perfectly willing to pass a funding measure — without funding for a border wall —  that increases spending from the previous year, as long as the Democrats do not insist on a DACA fix as part of the spending package. President Trump has made explicitly clear that he will insist on border wall funding (which, after all, is an actual funding measure) only if Democrats insist on their completely non-germane policy rider.

There is absolutely no debate that if this shutdown occurs, Democrats should bear the blame — at least under the rules laid down by the media during the Obama administration.

Let's review the proof, for anyone who wasn't paying attention during all the dozens of times that the media placed the blame exclusively on Republicans in Congress every time a government shutdown either occurred or came close to occurring during Obama's tenure.

The first serious shutdown threat during Obama's presidency came in 2011, when Republicans controlled the House and Democrats controlled the Senate. Republicans were attempting to negotiate with Democrats on the level of federal spending; in other words, this was a legitimate debate about actual spending levels between two parties, each of which controlled one branch of Congress. In the midst of it all, the House actually passed a funding bill to avert a shutdown and Obama threatened to veto it.

How did the media cover this fight? By fairly insisting that both sides should shoulder some of the blame if negotiations broke down? By placing some of the blame at Obama's doorstep for threatening to veto a bill to keep the government running? Not exactly. Instead, we were treated to headlines like, "Government shutdown looms despite Obama's intervention." Seriously.

The issue cropped up again in September 2013. Again, Republicans controlled the House and Democrats controlled the Senate. Republicans attempted to use their leverage to impose a policy rider (defunding Obamacare) on the continued funding of government.

In other words, this was an exactly analogous situation to the current fight that the Democrats are picking over DACA. The media were very clear as to who was to blame for the shutdown: the Republicans. The headlines blared that the GOP was ready to shut down the government, the House GOP was forcing a shutdown, the Republican Party is to blame for the shutdown fight.

The fight resumed again in September 2015. This time, Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress, and thus may have been excused for thinking that they could extract at least some concessions from a Democratic president without bearing the full brunt of media blame for a shutdown, if it happened. This time, Republicans had a very simple policy rider they were fighting for: take the money the government currently gives to Planned Parenthood and give it to less corrupt organizations. Republicans were fully prepared to pass such a funding measure, which would have kept the government open and operating with no problems — but Senate Democrats threatened to filibuster it and Obama promised to veto it.

Surely, this time, the Democrats would bear at least some of the blame for engaging in showdown brinksmanship, right? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Under the rules laid down by the media during the entirety of the Obama administration, if the Republican Party in Congress threatened to hold up a government funding bill for any reason whatsoever — be it the level of government funding, be it an important policy rider for their base — they were to blame for the potential government shutdown. No exceptions. Anything other than cringing, servile submission to the principle that the government must remain open at all costs was treated as the most irresponsible thing a political party in America ever engaged in.

So here in 2018, Republicans can perhaps be excused for being miffed that there is any question as to who is to blame if the government shuts down because the Democrats are threatening to filibuster a funding bill if it doesn't include a DACA fix. And yet, we are treated to the sad spectacle of the Washington Post credulously passing on this Bernie Sanders op-ed claiming that "It's on Republicans to prevent a shutdown," along with cable news talking head panels sagely predicting that Republicans will bear the brunt of the political fallout if a shutdown occurs.

Most galling of all, after Republicans responded to the Democrats' non-germane DACA demand with a compromise that involved funding for a border wall — a promise that Trump run on and won — the media treated this not as evidence that Republicans are willing to compromise (or at least engage in horse-trading), but rather as evidence of how unreasonable Trump is being.

I get that roughly 99 percent of the media thinks that a border wall is a bad idea, but Trump's offer to trade what the Democrats want on immigration with something he wants on immigration is evidence of Republican willingness to compromise in order to avoid a shutdown. Given that Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House, it is objectively an eminently fair offer. If the Democrats do not like it, they still have the option of just funding the government without a DACA fix and trying to press the DACA issue in an independent bill.

There is just no scenario here where the blame for a shutdown, if one occurs, should land on the Republicans. Under the rules the media established over the last seven years, they should be screaming and jumping up and down about how irresponsible the Democrats are being with government funding.

But the Democrats know that they aren't, and that they won't start doing so, no matter what. So they feel completely free to threaten this pointless filibuster, knowing the media will give them cover.

That's why, if a shutdown occurs, you can blame the media.

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