Illinois could teach Congress and President Donald Trump a thing or two about the standoff over border-wall funding that has partially shut down parts of the federal government.
Here in the Land of Lincoln, we’re experts at budget impasses. From 2015 to 2017, our governor and legislators were locked in a stalemate over funding government services.
Everyone in Illinois paid a price for our partial shutdown. College students struggled when funding lapsed for higher education. People with disabilities and others who receive care through social service agencies may have suffered the most.
But everyone paid. The state comptroller said taxpayers would have to pay more than $1 billion in late fees on unpaid bills. The state’s credit rating took several hits, increasing the cost of borrowing money.
Partial shutdowns and budget impasses are stupid and futile. No one wins. Everyone suffers. They’re costly games of chicken played by stubborn politicians who think the other side will cave first. They’re the political equivalent of an unstoppable force and an immovable object.
But as that old impossible paradox proves, there are no such things as unstoppable forces and immovable objects. If one existed, the other couldn’t. Eventually, the pressure become too great and something gives.
Both sides think they have leverage when a budget impasse begins. Trump has his mastery of media messaging. He’ll say Democrats want open borders. House Freedom Caucus members and pundits at Fox News will amplify his message.
Democrats in Congress show no signs of budging. Presumptive House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have offered $1.6 billion for border security. Trump is said to be willing to negotiate his demand for at least $5 billion for a wall that he repeatedly said Mexico would pay for when he campaigned for president.
Back in the spring, Congress and Trump nearly negotiated a deal to fund $25 billion for a wall in exchange for extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects 1.8 million immigrants. No deal was reached.
Congress and the president should rightfully debate immigration policy, border security and a lot of other important issues. But shutting down even part of the government while those negotiations take place is costly. Uncollected trash is piling up in the streets of Washington, D.C.
Last week, it looked like Trump and Congress would avert a shutdown. The Senate unanimously passed a continuing resolution to fund the unfunded parts of government through Feb. 8. In Illinois, we call that, “kicking the can down the road.”
Trump initially indicated he would sign the deal but changed his mind amid criticism from some ardent supporters. The House then passed a bill with $5 billion for Trump’s wall. But it sputtered in the Senate, where it would need Democratic support to reach 60 votes that are needed for passage.
With the shutdown in its sixth day on Thursday, an estimated 420,000 federal workers were working without pay and another 380,000 were furloughed. The shutdown affects some 50,000 members of the Coast Guard, which is funded through the Department of Homeland Security.
Trump says the shutdown could last a while, but pressure will build. Our Illinois impasse ended when the state was about to suspend road construction projects and lottery sales.
There is no need for a spoiler alert in this story. The Illinois stalemate ended when a dozen or so Republican lawmakers sided with Democrats to override a veto by Gov. Bruce Rauner. About 15 months later, Rauner lost his re-election bid to J.B. Pritzker by 15 points.
National media seem to portray the partial shutdown as a standoff between Trump and Democrats in Congress. The current narrative seems to suggest the two sides must negotiate a compromise. But that depiction of the situation ignores the role of Congressional Republicans.
What if Congress were to end the standoff with a bipartisan override if Trump vetoes a continuing resolution or other deal to fully fund government? Such a move would require two-thirds majorities of at least 67 votes in the Senate and 290 votes in the 435-member House of Representatives.
If Democrats unanimously backed such a plan, that would mean getting the support of 20 Republicans in the Senate and 55 GOP members in the House, where Democrats will hold 235 seats as of Jan. 3.
Trump and the 40 members of the House Freedom Caucus would be furious. Some Trump supporters would say such an outcome is impossible, that Republicans would always stick together. For a couple years here in Illinois, no one could have imagined Republican legislators joining forces with Democrats to defy the chief executive.
The partial federal shutdown affects the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Interior, State, Transportation, Treasury and Housing and Urban Development. With each passing day, pressure builds as services are disrupted and some 800,000 workers go without paychecks.
Congress can let the trash pile up in the streets of Washington, D.C., for only so long.
In Illinois, some Republican lawmakers who voted to override the governor’s veto said they could no longer participate in an exercise that was damaging to the state. Some who represent districts with state universities chose their constituents over their political party. Several opted to not seek re-election.
The GOP-controlled Congress has given Trump a fairly long leash thus far. Many have criticized the lack of oversight. Some semblance of balance will be restored next week when Democrats take over the House majority.
An override of a Trump veto is one way the partial shutdown could end. It’s a potential outcome that’s not receiving a lot of attention at the moment. Much of the focus is on Trump and Democrats, with many waiting for one side to cave first and lose the game of chicken.
However long the impasse lasts, keep your eyes on Congressional Republicans. In Illinois, Republicans were the key to overriding an executive branch veto by a member of their party and ending a senseless budget impasse.
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December 27, 2018 at 04:12PM