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No, Republicans didn’t win the shutdown fight. They lost some leverage

Jonathan Bernstein
Jonathan Bernstein

Now that Democrats have agreed to end the government shutdown, have they now proved they will cave the next time around? That’s a popular theory among political pundits right now, but it sounds upside down.

Republicans lost one of their legislative hostages by passing the long-term funding of the Children’s Health Insurance Program while committing to address how to salvage President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. At least in the Senate. Granted, it’s not much more than Democrats had on Friday — before the government closed — but it’s something.

On the other hand, Republicans didn’t get anything at all. Remember, the GOP wants to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year. They’d prefer to fund it on their own terms, but they’d also accept a compromise that goes a long way towards achieving their agenda. They are no closer to that than they were when the last temporary funding bill - the one that set up the Jan. 18 deadline passed back in December. That gives Democrats leverage.

Every time Republicans kick the government funding can down the road, they lose steam. Only 14 senators (and only eight Democrats) opposed the extension voted on in early December. That increased to 32 “no” votes (31 Democrats and 1 Republican) on the pre-Christmas extension. And then Friday 48 senators opposed kicking the can down the road another four weeks. That was enough to defeat the continuing resolution by filibuster, but not enough to give Democrats the increased leverage a majority vote would have provided.

Now Republicans have just 17 days until the next deadline. If nothing changes — if there’s neither an immigration deal or, as seems likely without DACA, an overall spending deal, then they’ll need another continuing resolution. At that point, Republicans won’t have CHIP funding as leverage. The DACA March deadline will be that much closer. And senators who are impatient with a series of continuing resolutions will be even more impatient.

Another CR that passes the House on a party-line vote for another three- or four-week delay could easily lose the 48 senators who opposed the Friday vote, along with one or more of the five Democrats who supported it, and perhaps even a few more Republicans such as Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Bob Corker. Those three voted for the four-week CR on Friday but then negotiated for a compromise.

If Republicans can’t hold a majority in the Senate, they may have to switch to very short temporary funding bills, and more to the point they may have to actually negotiate a deal, both on DACA and on the full-year spending bill. In fact, if McConnell anticipates that he won’t have a majority next time, he may try to cut a deal before the deadline. That’s essentially what the Democrats want.

Of course, there are more unknowns than knowns at this point. Will temporary funding measures continue to lose support in the Senate? If the Senate does reach a bipartisan compromise on immigration, overall spending, or both, would the House go along? That is, would Speaker Paul Ryan be willing to bring to the floor a bill that the House Freedom Caucus strongly opposed? And there’s no way of predicting what the White House will do to derail all of this.

Ignore the spin from either side. The shutdown that ended Monday shouldn’t have happened, and everyone shares the blame. But it’s hard for me to see how the Democrats are in any worse shape than they were in on Friday.

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