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Analysis: A Realistic Path to End the Shutdown, Without Either Side Abandoning Its Top Demand

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

A week ago, I outlined a proposal under which both political parties could claim some modicum of a victory, reopen the government, and allocate more money for enhanced border security -- including new barriers along portions of the southern border.  Needless to say, on day 33 of this partial shutdown, my advice has not been heeded.  The good news is that both Congressional chambers are currently moving legislation designed to end this historic impasse.  The bad news is that none of the items being debated at the moment have any realistic chance of becoming law, as the situation currently stands.  The Democrat-held House is going through the motions of passing individual spending bills, seemingly designed to buttress the talking point that the lower chamber has 'taken X number of votes' to end the shutdown.  These are, effectively, show votes.  Over in the Senate, two procedural votes are expected tomorrow:


Given the 60-vote threshold on non-reconciliation legislation, neither option is expected to pass.  Mitch McConnell will therefore preside over an exercise in illustrating what cannot emerge from the Senate, while re-framing the debate to underscore the truth that as much as they talk about the vital and urgent importance of getting federal workers paid, Democrats' top priorities lie elsewhere.  As I mentioned earlier in the week, the president's constructive offer to Democrats was a reasonable move and a smart political play.  The opposition party is finally starting to feel some pressure over their knee-jerk intransigence, which doesn't match up with their rhetoric.  While Speaker Pelosi remains resolute in the don't-give-an-inch camp, some rank and file members are either decrying knee-jerk partisanship, or urging their own party to give the president the barrier money he's asked for, in order to end the ongoing showdown:

Peterson said approving Trump's request could help bring an end to an "unnecessary" government shutdown.  “Give Trump the money” Peterson said. “I’d give him the whole thing…and put strings on it so you make sure he puts the wall where it needs to be. Why are we fighting over this? We’re going to build that wall anyway, at some time.”Peterson suggested that a portion of the money could be used to help the Border Patrol and to improve security measures at ports of entry.

The likelihood of Pelosi caving at this stage is virtually nil, so I've once again assessed the situation with an eye toward getting to 'yes,' even if the Democratic leader has done nothing to realistically achieve that goal.  To that end, I have a fresh thought, and President Trump has already done his part: He's put DACA and TPS extensions -- along the lines of a Dick Durbin-sponsored bill -- on the table.  These are meaningful concessions.  Even if Democrats don't think the specifics are attractive enough to win their support, those two issues have now been publicly and formally injected into the discussion by the president.  Trump has also already climbed down from his previous request on the wall -- on the dollar amount, on the extent of the barrier, and on the type of barrier.  

Now it's Pelosi's turn.   What would be required of her under this scenario is to put a counter-offer on the table, including some significant amount of money that's tentatively earmarked for new border barriers -- which do work and are needed, according to the experts and troubling realities.  (Their latest gambit of offering more "border security" measures, excluding barriers, is a non-starter and a waste of time).  This concession would come with a caveat: Democrats will not negotiate any further details, or pass any bill based on the contours of the potential immigration agreement, until after the immediate passage of a Continuing Resolution funding all seven shuttered agencies for three-to-four weeks.  Republicans would have to agree to reopen the government on the front end, and get everyone paid (even if temporarily), in order for those negotiations to begin.


Why is this a fair compromise?  On one side, Trump would have won an assurance, demonstrated in a public offer, that he'll get substantial additional dollars for physical barriers.  He'd also have the continued leverage of another looming partial shutdown in a few weeks' time if Democrats end up refusing to talk in good faith.  Reopening the balance of the government for the rest of the year, with the exception of DHS, might tempt Democrats to tell Trump to pound sand after he's walked away from this leverage.  The specter of a double-dip shutdown over the exact same issues serves as a serious backstop to prevent the sort of bait-and-switch that many conservatives fear.  On the other side of the aisle, Democrats would stick by their pledge not to negotiate the border security package while the government remains partially closed.  And the workers, whom they hold up as their overwhelming priority, would get their paychecks flowing again, as policy details are hammered out over the ensuing weeks.  

If the Democratic Party's talking points about caring immensely about federal employees' financial well-being and "supporting border security" are true, this outcome would create some breathing room to craft an acceptable bill, while people are getting paid.  If they try to pull the rug out from under Trump, we'll be right back where we started within a month.  Finally, it's inevitable that elements of each party's base would be unhappy with this resolution; Trump would not be guaranteed his full funding request, and Democrats would have accommodated a key presidential demand as a prerequisite for the temporary reopening of seven closed agencies.  But compromises never please everyone.  That's sort of the point.  Is anyone actually interested in solving this problem in a productive manner, or is the goal total partisan victory? 


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