Will Democrats Fall Into The GOP’s “Bipartisan Trap”?
Mitch McConnell has seemingly had a rough year. His multiple attempts at repealing Obamacare in its entirety utterly failed, even as it consumed most of the legislative year. But, at the last minute, he was able to salvage victory from his failures by passing a massive tax giveaway to his donors and the rich. At the same time, the bill will also force 13 million Americans to lose their health insurance. All the while, however, he was filling federal judgeships that he had blocked Obama from appointing at a record pace. So, all in all, in retrospect, McConnell will probably view 2017 as a modest success.
I continue to believe that Democrats made a tactical error in agreeing to raise the debt ceiling and pass a three month budget extension back in September. In return, Democrats got funding for hurricane relief and what turned out to be a worthless promise on DACA. The three month extension gave Republicans in Congress an opportunity to try to once again kill Obamacare, which failed by a mere one vote. In addition, it provided the opportunity to pass the horrendous tax bill, which also included that flank attack on Obamacare with the repeal of the individual mandate. If the Democrats had forced a government shutdown and extracted real legislative concessions on DREAMers and funding the CSRs in the debt ceiling and the budget agreements, it would not only have been a real win for Democrats. If that efforts eventually failed and Democrats were forced to cave after a month or two, it at least would have pushed the attempts to repeal Obamacare and the pass the tax bill into 2018 and closer to the 2018 election.
Instead, Democrats got a worthless promise from Trump and McConnell on the DREAMers and when push came to shove here in December, Schumer and Pelosi just punted again until January. At least they got a temporary agreement to fund CHIP as well as suspension of the cuts to Medicaid and Medicare that would have been triggered by the tax bill’s effect on PAYGO. However, Schumer and other Democratic Senators sadly on record as being worried that Democrats would be blamed for a shutdown, virtually eliminating the maximum leverage they might have.
Rather, Schumer is banking on Republicans in the House as being unwilling to fund another stopgap measure to fund the government. At that point, Democrats can potentially force an agreement with Republicans to fund CHIP and the CSRs and take care of the DREAMers while giving the hawks in the GOP the increased defense spending they are looking for. Under that scenario, Democrats would get some wins without being the ones who forced a government shutdown. But that entire scenario relies on House Republicans bucking Paul Ryan and that is no sure thing.
The closer we get to 2018, the harder it will be for Democrats to actually use their leverage and shut down the government. That’s why I continue to believe that Democrats should have made their stand in September. By the time 2018 came around, that would be long forgotten and the Republican attempts to repeal Obamacare and the tax bill would be an even fresher memory.
Paul Ryan and segments in the White House and the Republican party want to finish Ryan’s lifelong dream of destroying the New Deal safety nets and transferring wealth continually upward by focusing on welfare reform. On the other hand, McConnell and other sane Republicans will spend 2018 trying to show they can govern effectively by creating what David Atkins calls the “bipartisan trap” for the Democrats. That strategy involves seemingly attempting to work with Democrats on popular legislation but with poison pills that Democrats can not possibly accept and then blame Democrats for the failure. And it specifically designed to peel away support from those red state Democratic Senators up for election in 2018.
Part of that strategy will be to push some sort of infrastructure package. The problem for Democrats is that it will end up being just another corporate giveaway under the guise of public/private partnerships. Another might include some agreement about DREAMers, combined with additional border security. That will also problematic because Trump will probably want his border wall included and large elements of the GOP will be hard-pressed to support anything that smacks of helping immigrants. Again, the perfect solution for the GOP would be to end up with a failed attempt to deal with the DREAMers and be able to blame it on Democratic obstructionism.
Democrats can ignore the trap by simply refusing to play along. As Atkins writes, “They will ask Democrats to dance with them and help cover their tracks. They will hope that Democrats overlook all of this in an effort to be the adult in the room. They assume that voters will be gaslit by their protestations of good faith. They hope that Charlie Brown will try to kick that football just one more time.” McConnell himself has consistently negotiated in bad faith throughout the year, even with his Republican colleagues. He has made empty promises to Senators Corker and Collins in order to pass the tax bill. His agreement with Democrats on DREAMers was worthless. Neither McConnell nor Trump can be trusted at this point.
Its time for Democrats to stick to their guns and demand a clean action on DREAMers and full-funding for CHIP and the CSRs as part of any budget agreement. If that requires a government shutdown, so be it. If they succeed, then Democrats should sit on their hands for the rest of the term and not got sucked into the bipartisan trap. If they don’t and the government shuts down for two or three months, then Democrats will have at least showed some spine to their motivated base and denied the Republicans valuable time to lay the bipartisan traps McConnell has planned.
Originally published at tidalsoundings.blogspot.com on December 26, 2017.