On Saturday, the government shutdown becomes the longest in American history. In many ways, we should have seen it coming. Our government has never been more divided or partisan. It is the epitome of distrust and overreach by both parties, and why many Americans are exhausted with it all.
Consider that many Democrat leaders have said that once the shutdown ends, they’ll come to the negotiating table on immigration reform. Excellent! An example of a divided Congress tackling bipartisan reform.
But it seems too good to be true, doesn’t it? Why would the House Democrats have any incentive to give the Trump administration a political and bipartisan win on what will be the defining issue of the next two years of the presidency? This is the group with many of its members intent on impeaching the president, irrespective of the facts. Both sides have refused to take up the obvious deal of restoring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in exchange for $5.7 billion in border security in exchange for reopening the government — betraying their level of seriousness in solving the problem.
The Trump administration is right to realize that the government shutdown is their main bargaining chip and once it ends, their leverage is gone. If Democrats were serious about their offer to negotiate, they would lay down their arms in exchange for the adminstration laying down theirs. They would agree on a down payment for border security — the $1.6 billion that was agreed upon by a bipartisan group of denators this summer is a good start — in exchange for reopening the government and beginning broader immigration negotiations. Otherwise, the administration has no reason to believe Democrats’ promises.
Of course, any compromise may be unsatisfactory to President Donald Trump, especially if the goal for the administration isn’t border immigration reform (such as addressing visa overstays, which constitute the majority of illegal immigration or implementing merit-based reforms), but simply making good on the wall. And thus, it’s become expected that the way out of the shutdown will be that Trump uses emergency powers to fund the wall.
According to the legal community, it appears that Trump’s authority to do so is quite vast. But using emergency powers sets a dangerous precedent that limited-government conservatives should care about. If shutting down the government becomes a way for the executive branch to have carte blanche on spending priorities, Republicans should imagine what this would look like with a Democrat administration. The national emergency might be climate change instead of border security. The ask may be for $57 billion instead of $5.7 billion. When legislative dealings fall through, executive powers will supplant congressional authority. If this is proven to be an effective path for presidents to get their way, the stakes will only go up from here.
So here we are. The circus has been fun for a while. It’s made for shocking entertainment. It’s given people a sense of tribalism and belonging; each day the news cycle has been a surprise and the Twitter feed an outrage. But the shutdown has shown in clear terms that the circus isn’t just confined to entertainment; it has real impacts on real people. In the immediate term, there are hundreds of thousands of people who will go without paychecks. National parks have been vandalized. Food has gone uninspected. In the long run, we can expect further erosion of trust in our institutions and worrying growth of executive power.
What we may have thought was just spectacle within the beltway of Washington is galvanizing innocent bystanders and betraying good stewardship of resources while furthering the careers of the political elite on both sides of the aisle. No wonder most Americans are tired of it all. The circus comes at a cost.
Abby McCloskey is an economist and founder of McCloskey Policy LLC. She has advised multiple presidential campaigns. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
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