The news on Sunday night that Republican and Democratic negotiators had reached an agreement on a spending bill will come as a relief to those who were worried about another federal government shutdown. The roughly $1.07 trillion deal, which emerged after months of haggling, is the first major bipartisan legislative achievement in the Donald Trump era. Of course, completing an appropriations bill that should have been done five months ago is not exactly a monumental accomplishment, but beggars can’t be choosers.
The real story here is not that some accommodation was finally reached, but that congressional Democrats – a party that, numerically speaking, is in the doldrums – forced the GOP majority to cave on pretty much every significant budget item that it demanded. Funding for Planned Parenthood remains safe. The National Institutes of Health will see a healthy $2 billion increase. Money for the construction of Trump’s wall along the southern border is prohibited. The Environmental Protection Agency will suffer only a 1 percent decline in its budget. Democratic resistance led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Leader Nancy Pelosi has proven to be nothing short of a winning strategy.
As much as Schumer and Pelosi might claim that Democrats are prepared to work with President Trump on important items, the party’s antics over the last three months tell a far different story. Nothing that Democrats have done during the Trump administration’s first 100 days, from boycotting committee hearings on Trump’s nominees to filibustering Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court, would lead anyone with a smidgen of impartiality to believe that they’re ready to play ball.
In fact, Americans haven’t seen this level of obstruction since the Obama-McConnell wars of 2010-2014, when Senate Republicans used the filibuster to slow down and outright block President Obama’s judicial nominations, transforming the Senate from a great deliberate body to an extension of campaign trail politics. You can blame Trump’s inexperience all you want, but a huge reason the president hasn’t been able to get anything done in Congress is because Democratic lawmakers are simply not interested in compromise.
When Republicans were obstructing Obama’s agenda, they were frequently castigated as petulant whiners who cared more about pleasing their political base than enacting laws for the betterment of the country. Yet Democrats, despite mimicking the McConnell playbook to their advantage, haven’t received that same kind of criticism. Just as tea party Republicans wouldn’t work with Obama on anything, the Elizabeth Warrens of the world have no intention whatsoever of providing Trump with an assist.
When blocking a president is consistently perceived as good politics, what incentive does a party have to reach across the aisle? This is exactly the position that Democrats in Washington find themselves in: fighting tooth and nail, a favorite phrase of Schumer, is more rewarding than searching for bipartisan solutions that everyone can live with.
The Democratic strategy is clear: say “no” to whatever Trump proposes. And if Republicans insist on dozens of poison pill riders, don’t be afraid to threaten a government shutdown. So far, the strategy is working quite well. If you don’t think so, just take a look at how Trump and Republicans in Congress have capitulated every step of the way.