New Ballgame: Thanks to Successful House Vote, Only a Democratic Filibuster Would Force Government Shutdown

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Posted: Dec 21, 2018 4:01 PM
New Ballgame: Thanks to Successful House Vote, Only a Democratic Filibuster Would Force Government Shutdown

So will Dems go the obstructionist route here, in spite of all of their recent rhetoric about the importance of keeping the government up and running at Christmas?  The answer is almost certainly yes, which is why the president is urging Mitch McConnell to nuke the legislative filibuster -- which I don't support, for reasons I'll get to later.  But shouldn't Democrats be facing more heat from the public and the media (chortle) now that the facts on the ground have changed?  Remember, just last week, Nancy Pelosi was taunting House Republicans and the president, twisting the knife that their own partisan contingent didn't have the votes to pass a government funding bill that satisfied Trump's $5 Billion border security request.  The withering talking point was that the president was demanding Democrats help pay for something that his own party couldn't even deliver if they tried on their own.  Well, last night they tried, and they passed it. Talking point expired:


I wrote about this very scenario, calling it an early test of Kevin McCarthy's leadership.  He'd gone on the record to express his '100 percent' confidence that his caucus could pass a bill that reflected the president's wishes.  Lots of Capitol Hill reporters doused that confidence with cold water, based on what they were hearing, particularly because of a pretty serious attendance/truancy issue among dozens of members.  And then House Republicans delivered.  Nancy Pelosi, famed vote counter, was wrong.  So now we're presented with the following scenario: The House has approved legislation that would fund the remainder of the federal government (much of it is already funded, thanks to previous work), which deviates from Democrats' agreed-upon numbers by roughly $4 billion, total -- all on border security.  The president is willing to sign it into law.  If Mitch McConnell can demonstrate that a simple majority of Senators would vote yes, the only thing standing in the way of averting a partial shutdown is a Democratic filibuster.  

Why, based on the 'rules' of shutdown blame games, would this be acceptable, or the Republicans' fault?  Many Democrats have voted for increased border security and the construction of hundreds of miles of physical barriers in the past.  Why "shut down the government" in order to deny the president a modest win?  If the shoe were on the other foot, this would be decried as mindless intransigence and hatred.  Most of us are old enough to recall how the press covered these battles during the Clinton and Obama administrations.  Meanwhile, here was Nancy Pelosi's statement just yesterday, prior to her Republican colleagues passing the aforementioned bill:

Somehow or other, and I don’t know what the answer to the question is, the President of the United States prefers to shut government down and will resist any opportunity to keep government open...The President is doing everything that he can to shut the government down.  We have to ask the question, why does he not believe in governance?  Does he not care about the American people?  Doesn’t he know that the economy is uncertain?  

It's true that Trump had loudly broadcast his willingness to precipitate and own a partial shutdown, which was quite helpful to Democrats' messaging efforts.  But the game has changed with the passage of a bill that Pelosi had smirkingly insisted couldn't get passed.  She and Chuck Schumer should now be asked, why do they not believe in governance?  Do they not care about the American people?  The economy is uncertain, after all!  Will they resist any opportunity to keep the government open?  Live by simplistic framing, die by simplistic framing and assignments of blame:


How 'bout it, Chuck?  Cassidy went on to quote four Senate Democrats voicing recent support for building a wall, which is useful messaging, but even if every one of those quoted were to join an united GOP on this (unlikely), they'd still be several votes shy of the requisite 60 to break a filibuster.  I have a sneaking suspicion that Republicans still aren't in a strong position to "win" a partial shutdown PR war, given the president's previous pronouncements and the media's lopsided affinity for Democratic narratives.  But their footing is stronger today than it was earlier in the week.  I also do not believe that tearing down the legislative filibuster would be practical (they don't have the votes) or wise (power grabbing overreach almost always ends up burning the aggressors, as Democrats have learned the hard way).  Ending the filibuster on legislation may theoretically help Republicans secure $5 billion or so in wall funding this week, but starting in just a few days, Democrats will hold the House, so this tool's usefulness would all but vanish. 

And if Democrats were to regain the Senate after 2020 or beyond, imagine what they might do with a 50-plus-one threshold on any number of proposals.  Yes, it's possible that they'd go nuclear again to ram through something like single-payer healthcare.  But it's also quite possible that skittish Democrats who remember the Reid Rule debacle and aren't on board for a government healthcare takeover would prevent that outcome.  This escalation is not worth it.  Question, though: Might some Democrats vote with Republicans to abolish the filibuster, knowing they'd exploit the new rule down the line?  They sure might.  This is a bad idea in general, but it's an especially bad idea just before the new power would be rendered irrelevant.  An outgoing conservative elder statesman of the Senate agrees (and his replacement, Mitt Romney, is almost guaranteed to share this view):


Rather than having a big, dumb internal fight over a quixotic 'nuclear' gambit, Republicans should rally and aggressively occupy their new political terrain, made possible by last night's House vote.  They have a bill that would keep the whole federal government open, and it's within approximately $4 billion of agreed-upon bipartisan spending levels.  Republicans still control the government, and the president campaigned on a border wall.  If the opposition party is willing to precipitate a shutdown out of pure spite, and over a relative drop in the bucket, they should be forced to pay a price.