The GOP Is Ill-prepared for a Government Shutdown

Looking at Nancy’s piece on the Republicans’ plan for preventing a blue wave midterm election, I noted that immigration will be a wedge issue. There are obviously different elements to immigration, and some have more political power than others. In general, however, these issues tend to divide the Republican caucus much more than the Democratic caucus.

There may be some Democratic lawmakers who are worried about how the DACA issue will play in their home districts, but they’re certainly not talking about their concerns. Overall, the American public strongly objects to the idea of deporting people who came here as young children and have proven themselves to be promising and productive members of our society. I’m unaware of any Democrats who publicly support funding Trump’s stupid border wall, but there are plenty of Republicans who think it’s a bad idea, a waste of money, and something that the Mexicans were supposed to pay for rather than the American taxpayers. The sanctuary city issue may be a more productive area for the Republicans to probe, but it’s also something that so far has been litigated in the courts, and not to the GOP’s advantage. It’s probably of limited value as a campaign issue, especially because the economy is humming and we’re closing in on full employment.

The other wedge issue mentioned in Nancy’s article is only tangentially related to immigration. The GOP wants to argue for stronger work requirements for welfare recipients. To get any political juice out of that argument the Republicans would have to set things up so that the Democrats were blocking them from enacting legislative changes to the law. For example, if they could get a government shutdown framed around welfare instead of DACA, they might actually win that battle at the voting booth. Maybe.

As things stand, though, the Republicans are facing a government shutdown framed around DACA and shithole countries. When you consider that the Republicans control both chambers of Congress and that they’re divided over DACA and immigration policy, their situation looks pretty catastrophic. They’ll argue that the Democrats are soft on defense and obstinate on immigration, but it will be their inability to compromise on solutions on those issues that causes the Democrats to withhold their votes.

The GOP has one idea for splitting Democrats in the next round of voting, and that is to use CHIP, the children’s health program, as a bargaining chip.

One option Republicans are strongly considering to win over Democrats, according to two aides familiar with the GOP’s planning, is attaching a long-term renewal of the Children’s Health Insurance Program to the stopgap. Republicans believe that many Democrats — especially senators seeking reelection this year — will have a tough time voting against the program, which they have called a top priority.

This is a sensible strategy, but it will probably work better on the campaign trail than in the whip count for the votes that are coming up on a short-term continuing resolution to keep the government in operation. The Democrats might consider trading long-term CHIP funding for a clean C.R., but the Republicans will lose too many of their own votes with that move. If you’re going to hold children’s health hostage, you should probably get more than an extra month of Obama-level government spending as your ransom. Still, in theory the CHIP issue could divide Democrats, which is something the Republican leaders in Congress are having a lot of troubling accomplishing at the moment.

The main opposition to a clean C.R. to avoid a government shutdown is coming from defense hawks on the right and DACA supporters on the left. In both cases, the Democrats have the upper hand. They’ll vote for more defense spending provided only that there are corresponding increases in domestic spending. The Republican defense hawks may not like that deal, but they’ll take it. On DACA, a large portion of the Republican caucus wants a deal on DACA and they’ll support something along the lines of the deal that Sens. Graham and Durbin brought to the White House last week. This faction will not want to defend a government shutdown over an issue on which they’re actually willing to make concessions.

What’s remarkable in all of this, to me, is that you’d think the immigration issue would scare and divide the Democrats after they saw how much power it had in the presidential election. But it’s really not scaring or dividing them at all. They support DACA, oppose the border wall, oppose the Muslim ban, oppose most of Trump’s proposed reforms on sanctuary cities, chain migration, etc., and they’re not at all concerned about a government shutdown that will highlight these issues.

These issues do have real power. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone get complacent about its political potency. It’s just that I don’t think the Republicans have set this up in a way in which they can press their advantages. The government shutdown is almost definitely going to do far more damage to their candidates than it does to the Democrats.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.