Why a Solution to the Government Shutdown Remains Elusive

President Trump has offered a proposal to end the government shutdown, but it probably won’t be enough to satisfy Democrats. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement, based on news reports of what he would propose, dismissing Mr. Trump’s offer as a non-starter before he even formally made it. Ms. Pelosi’s rejection likely was met with little surprise at the White House. Mr. Trump’s proposal seems mostly intended to strengthen his hand in negotiating a final deal. Still, it is a modest step in moving towards resolving the longest government shutdown in history and a signal of willingness to compromise on the part of the White House.

Mr. Trump’s proposed deal includes the $5.7 billion in funding for a border wall he has been asking for, and in exchange offers Democrats a three-year extension of the DACA program, which allows so-called “Dreamers” — undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children — to stay. It also extends Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for three years. This would shield immigrants covered under the program — mostly victims of natural disasters from Central and Latin America — from deportation. In addition, Mr. Trump’s proposal would increase the number of border agents and provide funding for humanitarian relief and drug detection technology at border crossings.

Why Democrats Rejected Trump’s Offer

On its face, this appears similar to a deal Democrats offered, and Mr. Trump rejected, last year. However, there are some key differences. Last year, the Democrats offered $25 billion in wall funding in exchange for a permanent DACA fix, including a pathway to citizenship. Mr. Trump’s proposal is temporary and does not include a mechanism for DACA recipients to become citizens. Democrats judge a temporary DACA fix insufficient. A legislative solution for the DACA program, an Obama-era initiative implemented by executive order that Mr. Trump has sought to end because he says it overstepped Presidential authority, has been a key sticking-point between Democrats and the White House for more than a year.

It’s likely that Mr. Trump is offering a temporary DACA fix to retain negotiating leverage for additional wall funding down the road. This is not lost on Democrats. But, Mr. Trump is betting that while Democrats will make the distinction between a permanent and temporary DACA fix, the public at-large will not. Mr. Trump reckons that if Democrats accept his compromise, great. But if they don’t, at worst it helps turn the tables, making Democrats look like the ones who are intransigent.

But, Democratic activists are having none of it. “Americans overwhelmingly voted for Democratic control of the House to put a check on Trump on exactly this kind of reckless behavior,” said Charles Chamberlain, chairman of liberal activist group Democracy for America.

Why Trump is Seeking a Way Out

The government shutdown, already the longest in history, is now nearing the one-month mark. Thus far, Mr. Trump has shouldered much of the political blame. Polls show Americans blame Mr. Trump for the shutdown and his approval ratings have slipped since it began. By wide margins, voters just want the shutdown to end.

SOURCE: FIveThirtyEight.com

But, perhaps a stronger incentive for Mr. Trump is the potential that the shutdown will become a drag on the economy and imperil his clearest argument for the success of his Presidency.

Kevin Hassett, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, estimates that the shutdown is shaving 0.13 percent off of quarterly economic growth for each week it goes on. That means that the economy has already lost 0.5 % in growth over the four weeks the government has been shut down.

While this may not be enough to tip the economy into recession, it certainly doesn’t help. It is another drag on an economy already facing headwinds from Mr. Trump’s trade war with China, Federal Reserve rate hikes, and a sagging stock market.

“The longer it goes on, the bigger the risk is of broader damage,” Ian Shepherdson, an economist at research firm Pantheon Economics, told Vox News. “If the shutdown lasts for the whole quarter, it won’t be trivial.”

Little Room to Maneuver

Still, hemmed in by uncompromising base supporters, neither Republicans nor Democrats have much room to maneuver. Even this modest proposal faced blowback from immigration hawks. Ann Coulter, a conservative commentator influential among Mr. Trump’s base, ridiculed the proposal as “amnesty” on Twitter.

It was also Ms. Coulter’s criticism that prompted the White House soften its demand for wall funding in a bid to avert a shutdown last month.

Democratic leaders face similar pressure from a left-wing already discontented by Ms. Pelosi’s re-elevation as House speaker. For them, opposition to the wall is a proxy for opposition to Mr. Trump. For Democratic leaders to cave to Mr. Trump on his signature initiative as their first act after winning control of the house would be read by Democratic Party activists as a betrayal.

Endgame Remains Elusive

For now, Democrats will likely continue to try to saw off the limb Mr. Trump walked out on when the shutdown started. Still, by rejecting Mr. Trump’s proposal, it becomes easier for the White House to argue that the Democrats are the ones being unreasonable. While this compromise may not end the shutdown immediately, Mr. Trump likely hopes that it will turn up the political pressure on the Democrats and increase the chances of their accepting a compromise more to his liking.

There remains no easy solution to this mess. The shutdown fight is emblematic of an era of governing in which the affairs of state are in direct conflict with the political forces shaping both parties. Until the politicians find a way to strike a balance between the two, hundreds of thousands of Federal workers going without a paycheck will continue to be caught in the middle.


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