Editor’s Note: Sarah Lenti is a political strategist and policy adviser at SML Advisory Partners. She served as a director on the National Security Council under Condoleezza Rice and worked as a lead researcher for Mitt Romney’s 2010 book, “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.” The views expressed in this commentary are her own.
With the GOP tax overhaul passed and government shutdown averted in the course of a month, Republicans may look like the proverbial angels. But, don’t be deceived: The halo won’t last, and the Republican Congress’ approach to keeping the government open by only talking to itself will ultimately fail the American people.
Government funding was set to expire December 8. And, in the run-up to that deadline, there was a tizzy of chatter around whether the lights would stay on. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that “there is not going to be a government shutdown.” (The Senate Majority Leader literally has to say that – it’s his job to carry the party line.) But, so far, so good.
In the absence of any real attempt to negotiate with Democrats on the federal budget, the congressional Republicans craftily put a two-step voting process into play – with deadlines December 8 and December 22 – to ensure that the government remains functional through the holidays.
Right in line with the GOP’s master plan, Congress cleared the first hurdle on Thursday by passing a two week stop-gap funding bill just a day shy of funding drying up. Now, all focus turns to the next funding deadline, December 22.
It’s deflection at its best, to make congressional Republicans look good and even competent.
But eyes wide open: Republicans aren’t stalling the shutdown because they are working on thoughtful, bipartisan solutions to issues ranging from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, to defense spending, to infrastructure to the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP. In fact, in the words of one Republican representative earlier this week, the stalls are to sort through “end-of-year drama” among themselves. An obviously prudent use of taxpayer money.
Let’s not forget the President himself is promising to wrap and bestow a big, fat, tax-cut gift upon all Americans right in time for the eggnog. And, given the predicted final passage of the tax overhaul bill, congressional Republicans would not dare allow a shutdown to distract from the joint presidential-congressional gift to the people.
While this seems full of goodwill and angelically thoughtful – it’s not. This is about congressional Republicans needing to put a win on the board to avoid being wiped out in the midterm elections. And, while it may be true that I am a proponent of lowering taxes, the opportunism here just reeks.
My prediction is that at some point early in the new year, it’s all going to come to a head. Congress is either going to pass a reasonable budget or the government will shut down.
The onus is squarely on the Republican White House and Congress, given their supermajority status, to extend the olive branch to Democrats and secure a viable spending bill. Sadly, I have little to no confidence – given the superpartisan and intrapartisan fighting that we are witnessing these days – that this will happen.
This is where it gets scary for Americans.
In terms of pure economics, when Congress stalls on budget deals, critical conversations regarding whether to raise the debt ceiling are overlooked, leading to potentially consequential problems. According to Beth Ann Bovino, the US chief economist for S&P Global, “The impact of a default by the US government on its debts would be worse than the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, devastating markets and the economy.” Remember 2008? This actually would be devastating.
In terms of our Dreamers, failure to act will have real and dire consequences. Specifically, between March 6 and November 6, 2018, nearly 300,000 DACA recipients will be ripped out of the American workforce and denied the opportunity to contribute to the US economy. And without protection from deportation, nearly 800,000 Dreamers will become priorities for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. For Dreamers, who were carried over the border by no fault of their own, this is a desperate time.
In terms of the 9 million children and 370,000 pregnant women who are insured by CHIP, their coverage is in jeopardy. Thanks to Congress for so responsibly allowing CHIP funding to expire in September, and with no budget deal in sight, most states are on track to run out of funding by March. As a single mother of twin boys, who is fortunate to be able to afford insurance, I can’t imagine what it feels like to be on the other side.
And by the way, these words are not meant to be unnecessarily harsh on the GOP. I could have written a similar piece during the government shutdown of 2013, albeit under a Democratic White House and Democratic-controlled Senate.
Get our free weekly newsletter
Just like that, we go from feeling merry and bright to not-so-cheery and light. Brace yourself, the shutdown is coming.