It happened again. Congress let a funding debate come down to the last minute. And once again, Democrats won.
The new omnibus spending bill is a wretched monument to the Swamp, a time capsule of government waste and broken promises that future generations will unearth when they want to understand how they were saddled with mountains of debt they have no hope of repaying.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) gloated Wednesday evening that the bill does not fund the border wall — only “fencing that was already authorized under current law.”
Yes, there are a few good things, like expanded defense spending and the Taylor Force Act to defund Palestinian terrorism. But it virtually guarantees a return to trillion-dollar deficits. It also funds Planned Parenthood and even makes concessions on gun control.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) seems to be the only one who is actually reading the bill, and is tweeting its craziest provisions — such as $10 million for disadvantaged Egyptian students (my favorite).
Nick Mulvaney, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, pushed back against the idea that Republicans had failed despite controlling all of the branches of the federal government. He argued that since Republicans only hold 51 seats, nine short of the 60 needed to break a filibuster under Senate rules, the GOP really co-governs with the Democratic Party and must therefore obtain the opposition’s assent to pass most legislation.
Technically, that is true. But it is also absurd.
By that standard, Republicans have not “controlled” the Senate for nearly a century. (The last time Republicans enjoyed a filibuster-proof majority was in the 67th Congress, from 1921-23; Democrats last held that power in 2009-10, and also held it several times in the 1930s and postwar era.)
Mulvaney suggested that the only way for Republicans to achieve what they want is to change the rules of the Senate — something that President Donald Trump wants to do, but which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will not, and for good reason: Democrats would eagerly abuse that power at the first chance. Alternatively, Republicans could win 60 Senate seats at the polls — not impossible, but looking harder than it did a year ago.
All of that misses the point. Republicans do not need total control of the Senate to achieve better outcomes in budget negotiations. They simply need backbone, and stronger leadership. The simple reason that Republicans capitulate to most Democratic demands on spending is that Republicans are still afraid that they will be blamed by the mainstream media for any government shutdown that results from the failure to reach an agreement in time.
Republicans continue to believe that, even though Democrats bore the brunt of the blame for the last shutdown, earlier this year. Perhaps that is why Democrats did not insist on protection for the so-called “Dreamers” in the omnibus spending bill, despite heavy pressure from amnesty groups and the party’s progressive base. But at least Democrats went to the wall for a core constituency. Republicans will not defend even their most basic promises.
No one expects Republicans to get everything they want. But the point of having the majority in both houses is being able to get most of what they want. Mulvaney and Republican leaders in Congress describe the agreements they reach as the only possible deals under the circumstances. But in fact there are other deals that Democrats might also accept — deals more favorable to Republican priorities — if the governing party properly used its leverage.
Here is how it ought to be done — and how it is actually done, when Democrats are in power. 1. Pass a budget in the House that represents a general consensus within the ruling party. 2. Take that budget to the Senate and dare the minority party to filibuster. 3. Let the government shut down, and blame the opposition. 4. Wait for the minority party to fold, or make a token concession to the opposition that allows it to save face, and re-open the government.
Somehow Republicans seem unwilling, or unable, to govern. Yes, they passed more defense spending — one of the only compromises Democrats allowed. But they failed to fund the wall, a core promise from 2016. They also failed to cut federal spending and move toward a balanced budget, as promised in every election since 2010.
As a result, the Republicans are losing the confidence of their own voters. Nothing Democrats could do is as damaging as that.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named to Forward’s 50 “most influential” Jews in 2017. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.