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!