OK, so, the government shutdown. As I understand it, there are only three ways this can end: the Dems cave and allocate money for the Wall, Our Only President caves and signs a bill that does not have the funding he has demanded, or the Republicans in the Senate and House cave and join the Democrats in overriding a Presidential Veto. That’s pretty much it, right? There’s no other way to pass a budget.
Let’s look at the last one first—this would require 67 votes in the Senate, and assuming that all the Democrats vote for it, that means that 20 Republicans would have to vote to defy Our Only President. That seems unlikely, unless it come in the context of an impeachment—if the Republicans in the Senate break with the President definitively, I could certainly imagine a succession of veto overrides on various bills, but then, if they break with him, it is in their power to remove him. I rather doubt that will happen, but if it does, it could happen quickly. It’s harder for me to imagine 20 Senators being willing to defy the President on the wall and not remove him from office, under the circumstances.
The second is the big one, the one with all the different sub-options inside it. The problem here is that it’s impossible to know what the President will do in advance. I mean, that’s generally a problem in negotiations, and it’s a legitimate negotiating tactic to keep the other negotiators unsure of just how far you are willing to take your brinksmanship, but in this case it’s just that nobody trusts the guy. I think the obvious thing is for Sen. Maj. Leader McConnell to schedule a vote, let the bill pass with 52 or 53 votes and then make the President actually veto it or not. But that is going to depend on how bad he thinks it would be for him to have the President cave in and sign the thing without his support—I don’t think that would weaken his position or his ability to work with Nancy Pelosi, but he may well disagree.
And then there’s the first option: the Dems cave. Nobody seems to want this, but at some point we have to say: Is it worth it? The position is obviously correct, and caving would come at a heavy cost both in actual policy and in political terms as well, but this fight is also coming at a cost, and that cost is (as usual) being borne by those with the most disadvantages already. As people go hungry—and they will—the patent folly of a Wall will not feed them. The right thing to do this week may not be the right thing to do if this stretches on for another month.
I don’t know how this will all turn out (after my spectacularly wrong prediction of how the Republican primary would shake down in 2016, I gave up making predictions, especially about the future) but it seems likely that the various actors’ decisions will change when their incentives change, which is to say, when they perceive that the political pressures on them have changed. That’s why I think it’s important to think all this through, to figure out who you think might be the people who change their minds, and for what reasons. The President spoke from the Oval Office last night, and appeared to tailor his speech specifically to keeping people who support him from changing their minds. The legislative leaders of the Democratic Party responded, appearing to attempt to shore up their current situation rather than change it. The points that appear to be most likely to change right now are a bunch of Republican Senators who are responding to the pressures on them from their constituents of various kinds. That changes the pressure on Mitch McConnell, in different ways—I do think he’s the key figure in all this, as far as rational responses to political pressure goes.
For the moment, at any rate, I’m telling my legislators that I’m supporting their refusal to back down. But in truth, I could support some sort of Democratic cave—I think at this point I would just as soon have the government open, with a ‘victory’ for the President consisting of a temporary appropriation of money for the Wall that comes with a clawback clause that will retroactively zero out the money not spent when no wall is actually built and the Our Next President cancels the project entirely. This is predicated on my belief that the Wall will not actually be built no matter how much money gets appropriated, and that’s a belief not everyone shares—and to be clear, I think that it would hurt the US even to say we’re building a Wall, it would hurt the US more to build a mile of it, and more to build a hundred miles, even if we don’t fence off the entire border. But at some point, would it hurt the US more to stop providing food aid to the poor and doing EPA inspections and park service and hearing federal court appeals and verifying work eligibility and so forth? And what is that point? Who do we trust to make that decision, and how hard to we push those people to come to the decisions we want them to get to?
I tell you what, I had more coherent thoughts about politics and incentives back at the butt-end of the twentieth century, I did.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,