Thursday, January 10, 2019

Gaming out the government shutdown

 - by New Deal democrat

There isn't any significant economic news today, and there have been some developments of note in the standoff about Trump's border "wall," so let me update my thoughts on this.

A week ago Sunday, I wrote that Pelosi should opt for a "maximalist" strategy of making affirmative demands for Democratic objectives, as well as taking GOP "hostages" like agricultural subsidies, as bargaining chips to use to come to a deal with Trump and the GOP, rather than an "accommodationist" strategy of simply opening the government as previously agreed to by the GOP (a deal that Trump had reneged on).

Well, Pelosi chose the "accommodationist" strategy, so where are we?

There are 4 possible outcomes:

1. Trump capitulates. This is only going to happen if large portions of Trump's own base abandon him, as they did with the child separations at the border.

2. Pelosi and the Dems capitulate. If negotiations are off the table, and Trump's base doesn't turn against him, this is the more likely outcome.

3. Trump, the GOP, and the Dems negotiate a deal.  This happens if all sides can claim "victory." Trump gets appropriations for something he can call a "wall," and Democrats get something - like the DREAM Act - they can call victory as well. Since Trump has a demonstrated history of reneging on deals after pocketing concessions, any proposed deal is going to have to get around this procedural issue.

4. The Dems and the GOP negotiate a veto-proof deal. If Trump's base does not turn on him, but Congressional GOPers fear for their re-election chances in 2020, there is at least a slim possibility that they could cut a deal that overrides a Trump veto.

Now let's review where we are.

As I anticipated, since Pelosi was unable to obtain a 2/3's majority in the House, Trump is standing pat, and so is McConnell, since he has nothing to gain by trying to override a veto unless the House will do so as well.

So at the moment we are stuck in a "win-lose" capitulation scenario, with both sides becoming more and more entrenched as each is aware that its base will be furious with capitulation. In movie terms, this is a game of chicken where both drivers are speeding towards a cliff.

Right now, actually going over the cliff looks like the most likely scenario. "Going over the cliff" means that more and more government services shut down, and more and more pain is inflicted on an ever-increasing number of people. The shutdown will continue until there is so much widespread pain inflicted on average Americans that they scream for both sides to make it end, without really caring who caves in.

The first and most likely place for pain to be felt is airline travel, which is already starting. As more TSA security either fail to show up or outright quit, air travel will become very unpleasant. Slowdowns by overstressed air traffic controllers and by pilots aren't unlikely either. But that is probably not enough.

The more likely sources of the widespread pain are either (more likely) tax refund checks and/or Social Security checks stop going out; or (less likely) a widespread outbreak of food-borne illness  due to lack of FDA inspections.

But let's be clear on something unpopular: if we do go over the cliff, it is because *all* of the parties, including the Democrats, are willing to see widespread pain inflicted on ordinary Americans, rather than be seen to be capitulating.  As an aside, let's also be clear that there is a large faction of the GOP -- what Digby and Atrios call "E Coli conservatives" - who are perfectly happy with this, since they favor a return to 1859 anyway, minus the messy slavery bit.

In this case, the plurality if not majority of people are not going to care about apportioning blame. They are going to want "both sides" to give something up to get the government open. That probably means that the Democrats get nothing affirmative, but the funding for Trump's "wall" is cut back.  This comes closest to scenario #2, although it does involves some capitulation by Trump as well.

I've seen some commentary that suggests Trump will declare an "emergency" and claim victory even if the move is immeidately torpedoed by Congress and/or tied up in the Curts. The issue I have with this theory is, I see no reason why Trump would sign any funding bills while the challenges are pending, unless portions of his base abandon him. So I don't see how we avoid the "going over the cliff" part.

Since the one condition under which Trump will blink is if enough of his own base abandons him on this issue, #4 is the least likely scenario, because in those circumstances, Trump himself will capitulate.

Scenario #3 - the scenario for which I advocated - is less likely than the "going over the cliff" scenario, but more likely than #4.  At the moment, the only people pursuing this are a handful of GOP Senators. Here's a tweet on this from yesterday. I've included the retweet by Markos Moulitsas so that you can be assured that I am not the only one guilty of purity apostasy:

The biggest problem with scenario #3 is that, in between the agreement and Trump's signature, Lou Dobbs, Sean Hannity, and Stephen Miller are sure to try to reach him and rail against compromise. To get around that, in the past I've suggested making use of -- with as much hoopla as possible --  the "President's Room" in the Capital Building, and ensuring that the House and Senate both approve the deal before the President leaves the room, all the while he has to be chaperoned by the likes of Sens. Schumer and Graham to distract him (Pro tip: Kim Jung Un showed the way to do this). The only other possibility is to insist that, e.g., the DREAM Act be passed and signed first, with its taking effect contingent on the second bill appropriating $$$ for a wall, also being passed.

But, unfortunately, to recapitulate my point, so long as we are in a win-lose game of capitulation chicken, a large chunk of Americans are going to have to suffer some real pain before this impasse gets resolved, and so long as the point is that of wall vs. no wall, Democrats are not going to gain anything affirmative out of it.