Thursday, March 22, 2018

Listen: we can do this. We can make it.

After the election, Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress and have a pliant fool in the White House.  Even though they needed to deal with a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, they could be assured of using reconciliation to strong-arm some of their most important legislation through Congress.  Remember all the horrorshows being proposed a year and a half ago?  Remember proposals to ban all Muslim immigrants, to repeal all of Obamacare, to punish sanctuary cities, to bring stop-and-frisk nationwide, to transform the tax code, to build a wall?

Republicans have done a lot of damage with the power they won in 2016.  The executive power is great, and it can do a great deal of harm.  Slack and stupid governing at every level, purposefully ineffectual and sometimes downright dangerous.  But their achievements are a pittance compared to what they wanted.

They managed to repeal the individual mandate and the reinsurance in Obamacare, but all they've done is made healthcare more expensive -- the law remains, to be restored under another administration.  They managed to pass a lurching, abortive, slender version of a Muslim ban -- months later, and after a dozen humiliations.  They managed to pass tax cuts that are mostly temporary -- not the generational shift towards a regressive tax code that they hoped.

Republicans have scrabbled for scraps and gotten crumbs.  And it is thanks to unceasing, courageous, ferocious resistance.

And now they are almost out of chances.

The omnibus bill going through Congress now is shockingly okay.  Just like the last few spending bills, Republicans and Trump got rolled.
  • They were going to help employers steal tips.
  • They were going to defund Planned Parenthood.
  • They were going to kill the NEA, NEH, and funding for NPR and PBS.
  • They were going to build a wall.
  • They were going to slash the budgets of the EPA and the IRS.
  • They were going to block the D.C. assisted suicide law and budget autonomy.
  • They were going to rescind the Johnson Amendment so churches could become political lobbies.

They got none of that.  Not one of those things was in the bill.  Instead, it includes things like hundreds of millions specifically allocated to the FBI to fight Russian election interference, billions earmarked for fencing (and specifically not allowed to be used on a border wall!), some minor gun control provisions, and... well, read more about it for yourself.

And now it's the end of March in a midterm election year.  Republicans lost a seat in the Senate to Doug Jones of Alabama, dropping their majority down to a slender 51-49, and John McCain's illness means that it's often more like 50-49.  There's no more chance of reconciliation bills, either.  And there are eight months before the election, so the stakes are a lot higher and time is scarce before campaign season.

This was almost certainly the last major bill before elections.  We're not out of the woods yet, of course.  The president has a lot of power, even if he cannot make laws.  But the trees are thinning.

So what matters now?  2018 and control of Congress.  Now we must pour everything we have into that fight -- every fiber of muscle and every drop of sweat.  We must win.

And someday, when this long night has passed, we will feel the warm sun on our tired limbs and think back to this time before the dawn, when we shouted until our throats ached and marched until the ground shook, when we did everything we could to save our country... and won.

228 days until the midterm election.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Listen: the way the shutdown ended was probably the best realistic result.

I haven't written here in a while because most of my thoughts now go into the Greylock Together newsletter, but today's contrarian take merits more length.  I'm here to argue that the deal obtained by Senate Democrats and their leader Chuck Schumer was actually an excellent deal.  I've been reading a lot of expletives and anger from progressives, and chortling from conservatives, and both sides are too focused on optics to realize what happened.

Here's the background from The Washington Post:
Since the Trump administration announced in September that it would phase out the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, immigrants and their advocates have held rallies, flooded the offices of U.S. lawmakers and been arrested in acts of civil disobedience, all in an effort to force a vote on legislation that would allow dreamers to stay legally in the United States.

Senate Democrats, led by Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), forced a government shutdown last week, refusing to support a last-minute spending bill if it did not include protections for dreamers.
Senate Democrats held the line as we demanded, and shut down the government.  As a nearly united caucus, they demanded that DACA be saved before they would re-open.  Republicans refused.  S-CHIP's healthcare for children across the country and a functioning government (with all the associated collateral damage to innocent folks across the country) were the joint hostages of the two sides, and it was hard to see how the standoff could be resolved.  We demanded that Democrats hold out for DACA, and conservatives demanded that Republicans hold out against it.  Neither side could just capitulate, and both sides were sure the shutdown would help their polling, and it seemed like there was no way out.

In the end the Senate Democrats accepted a promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring DACA to the floor if a compromise bill isn't passed in three weeks.  This was seemingly just a surrender, right?  And a lot of progressive activists have been outraged by the Democratic "capitulation."  In the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg's column is titled, "Schumer Sells Out the Resistance" and Indivisible's Leah Greenberg and Ezra Levin call it a "bad deal for Dreamers."

But here's the thing: this is probably the best realistic outcome for Democrats.  Indeed, I'd go so far as to call it a good deal on its own merits.

First of all, it was always ludicrous to think that Republicans were simply going to agree to pass a DACA bill under pressure of a shutdown.  Even assuming they would be willing to simply pass a clean Dream Act, they could never do so under these circumstances because it would encourage a repetition of the same approach the next time funding bills come due.  I'm not even sure that would be a good thing, in fact, since it would help institutionalize a nasty and damaging tactic.  I'd prefer if people keep thinking Democrats lost this one, in fact, since it will help reinforce the idea that shutting down the government to obtain an unrelated policy concession always backfires.  (So maybe I should shut up, honestly).

So in this light, virtually any concession can be seen as a good thing, albeit not a desirable one.  And in this instance, Democrats got McConnell to agree to bring a bill to the Senate floor with a neutral process on February 8th, if the issue hasn't already been settled.

You might fairly object that this is garbage -- McConnell can't be trusted, it's not enough, they'll just try to insist on the hardline House bill, etc etc.  But if Senate Republicans go back on their word, then where will we be?  In almost the exact same place!  Democrats have given up almost no leverage in order to obtain this promise, since the continuing resolution was only for three weeks!

And let's not forget that the deal funded S-CHIP for six years, taking one hostage off the table!  And unlike keeping the government open, that was one hostage that Republicans were willing to execute.

Look at the balance sheet.

Republicans gained:
  • A working government.
  • Temporary tax cuts for some donors.         
Republicans lost:
  • Their S-CHIP hostage for the
    foreseeable future.
Democrats gained:
  • A working government.
  • S-CHIP funding for six years.
  • A public commitment on the
    immigration bill they've been
    seeking for years.
  • The chance to bring the same
    pressure to bear in three weeks.
Democrats lost:
  • Three weeks.

Looks like a good deal to me!