Until recently, I was generally unaware of Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana. But every time I catch him on cable news lately he cracks me up by speaking countrified wisdom that makes sense. I saw him asked by one of the cable newsers what he thinks of the “shutdown.” He called it “bone deep, down-to-the-marrow stupid.”
Our system allows this particular stupid tactic, which speaks ill of our system. Both parties do it when they think it will help them, but express maximum, faux, hypocritical outrage when the other party does it. Right now, it is Kennedy’s party that is in the faux outrage racket.
The shutdown tactic was invented only in 1976. Since then, it has been used 18 times (which may mean our system is getting even stupider and more dysfunctional). Both parties have used it, but whenever one party uses it, the other party calls it outrageous and unconscionable and someone (in this case it seems to be the assignment of Budget Director Mick Mulvaney) denounces it and is then asked to explain the previous “shutdown,” including those the denouncer supported. That was different, Mulvaney (and all the other designated explainers) explain, lamely.
For starters, what we’re calling a “government shutdown” is not really a “shutdown,” if “government shutdown” means what “government” and “shut” and “down” mean.
All of the most vital federal government functions (and plenty that are somewhere below “vital”) remain in function. It isn’t a “government shutdown” because the mail gets delivered, Congress stays open, the Supreme Court (and unsupreme federal courts) stay open.
The military remains on the job. The soldiers and sailors may not get paid on time, which is a faux horrified talking point for the party opposed to the “shutdown,” but the soldiers and sailors will get back pay when the “shutdown” ends. It may in some cases be a significant inconvenience for those soldiers and sailors barely living from paycheck to paycheck, but they will get paid.
In some past shutdowns both parties have agreed to provide pay for the military during the shutdown. In the current shutdown, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, asked for unanimous agreement of the Senate to pay the sailors and soldiers during the “shutdown,” but the Republicans wouldn’t agree — possibly, just possibly, because this is a Democratic shutdown and the Republicans would have to stop wrapping their outrage in concern for the soldiers and sailors who are not getting paid. This is actually standard operating procedure for finger-pointing during “shutdowns” that aren’t really shutdowns because:
The federal officials needed to keep airplanes flying stay on the job, and the airplanes keep flying. Social Security checks still get issued and mailed and delivered, and Medicare patients still get care; because the national parks stay open, although I believe Mulvaney said yesterday that the park bathrooms may not be cleaned.
Yes, many federal workers at various agencies may be seriously inconvenienced by an unplanned, unpaid vacation of unknown duration. I’m not saying it’s nothing. I’m saying calling it a “government shutdown” is a colossal overstatement. You may, if you like, call it a partial reduction of non-urgent government functions.
So why are we having this one? Because:
- Congress has not passed a budget for the current biennium.
- The government has been running on a series of short-term “continuing resolutions” (hereafter: CR), which provide temporary funding until a budget is adopted. But these are time-limited and the most recent one has run out.
- The passage of a new CR is still subject to the old filibuster rule (which, under recent rule changes no longer applies for a number of other designated functions). So it takes 60 votes to put through a new CR.
- Republicans have just 51 votes in the Senate (and several Republicans opposed the current CR that the Republican leadership wanted to push through) so the CR cannot pass without Democratic support.
- Ta-Da. That means Senate Democrats, who have very little leverage these days, have some at the moment. I should have said this right at the top. A government shutdown provides a stupid but legal way for the party out of power to gain some leverage. The Senate Democrats (let’s say their leader, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York) have decided to use that leverage to insist that they will provide the votes to pass a CR and avoid the “shutdown” in exchange for progress on the so called DACA fix. DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) refers to an Obama-era policy that deferred deportation of so-called “dreamers,” whose parents brought them illegally into the U.S. as children. President Trump rescinded the Obama order.
- Trump won’t do the DACA fix, so far.
Basically, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York says that he will provide the Democratic votes necessary to pass a new CR and avoid so-called “shutdown” in exchange for some relief from the threat of deportation of the “dreamers.” Trump has refused that deal. We are now in a full-scale finger-pointing war over who gets the blame if soldiers don’t get their paychecks and various other things happen that might happen in what is exaggeratedly called a “shutdown” of the federal government.
I’ll quit after one more thought, directed at dumping on a particularly deceptive Republican talking point that I heard constantly on Sunday and which really cuts back to the main reason Democrats are willing to (not really) shut down the government. The Republican talking point is that there’s nothing in the current proposed CR to which Democrats seriously object, so they should just pass the CR, keep the government open, and keep talking about other issues.
That’s sort of true but also mostly bogus. Democrats object to something that’s NOT in the CR, but that they want in the CR, which is DACA relief. The lack of a long-term budget gives the Dems some leverage and they want to use it to get DACA relief. Maybe that’s smart or dumb, politically. Maybe it’s right or wrong, morally. There are a lot of things Democrats want that they can’t get because they don’t control either house of Congress or the White House. They have a moment of leverage. And it’s not up to the Republicans to tell them how to use that leverage. They can say yes or no, but they can’t blame the Democrats for trying.