While conventional wisdom over the past 18 or so hours, both at The Federalist and elsewhere, holds that Democrats “lost” the shutdown showdown, this contrarian takes the position of noted college football analyst Lee Corso: “Not so fast, my friend!”
While not conceding on the substance of immigration legislation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made an important concession on process—one he has not made to conservatives. According to press reports, McConnell pledged that, if lawmakers cannot agree on an immigration package addressing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program by February 8, the expiration date of the continuing resolution that passed Monday, he would begin a freewheeling and open debate on a stand-alone immigration measure—provided the federal government remains open.
Republican leaders argued that, as they intended to debate an immigration bill in short order regardless, the concession amounted to precious little. But did then-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) agree to a freewheeling and open debate on repealing Obamacare following the 2013 shutdown? He did not. Then why did McConnell commit to bringing up an immigration bill while Democrats were—to use Schumer’s 2013 description—causing “governmental chaos” by failing to approve a temporary spending bill?
No Budget—No Problem!
Compare McConnell’s comments on an immigration bill with this Politico report not two weeks ago: “Republican leaders are considering skipping passage of a GOP budget this year—a blow to the party’s weakened fiscal hawks that would squash all 2018 efforts to revamp entitlements or repeal Obamacare….McConnell has argued that he cannot pass deficit-reduction legislation using powerful budget procedures with his new 51-vote majority—and wasn’t even sure he could find the votes for a fiscal blueprint in the first place.”
While liberals’ priority—immigration policy—will get prime floor time thanks to the commitment McConnell made in exchange for Democrats’ votes to reopen the government, conservative priorities like reforming entitlements and repealing Obamacare won’t see the light of day, because McConnell doesn’t even want to try to pass a budget.
All of this gives conservatives an obvious lesson: For the next appropriations bill, they should withhold their votes unless and until McConnell publicly commits to passing a budget through the Senate, with reconciliation instructions allowing for entitlement reform and Obamacare repeal efforts.
Could Have Been (and Might Get) Worse
While McConnell made a noteworthy concession to Democrats on process regarding an immigration bill, he did not concede the substance. Both in the hours prior to Friday night’s shutdown and on Monday, he repeatedly told Democrats he could not speak for the House and guarantee that they would take up, let alone pass, any immigration measure that cleared the Senate.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said she is confident President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will ensure passage of two bills aimed at shoring up the insurance markets.…
Collins remains confident that Trump and McConnell, fellow Republicans, will keep their word and make sure the health care bills get approved, said Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for the senator.…McConnell committed in writing to support passage of the bills either before adoption of a final tax bill or before the end of the year, Clark said. [Emphasis mine.]
If McConnell didn’t want to bind the House to an Obamacare bailout measure, he sure did a much less convincing job making that clear to Collins than he did to Democrats regarding immigration in the past week. Granted, the Obamacare bailout hasn’t happened—yet. But rest assured that McConnell and Collins, among others, are already looking to the next appropriations bill as a vehicle to pass the “stabilization” measure.
The disparate treatment between immigration and an Obamacare bailout gives conservatives the “consolation” that McConnell could have made far worse concessions to Democrats. But conversely, if McConnell wants to respect the House’s prerogatives, why does Collins believe he made a commitment to her to do the exact opposite?
While conservatives may have a case of schadenfreude at the Left’s circular firing squad over the shutdown’s end, they should not forget that they continue to play on liberals’ side of the field. Remember Republicans’ “reward” for cutting a deal on immigration that many will hate: The “privilege” of busting through budgetary caps in a bipartisan spending binge that could eradicate any pretense at fiscal discipline.
Given that daunting landscape ahead, conservatives shouldn’t focus their energies celebrating how they “won” this weekend’s battle, as doing so would guarantee they end up losing the larger war.
Mr. Jacobs is founder and CEO of Juniper Research Group, a policy consulting firm. He is on Twitter: @chrisjacobsHC.