A Matter of Principle
Published January 3, 2019 / Updated August 7, 2020

A Matter of Principle

Democrats must determine the price of their ideals

by Chris Thomas

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Photo by Daan Huttinga on Unsplash

For the last two years, Democrats have sat on the sidelines in Washington, able to make demands of the Republican majority only when a handful of Republicans were willing to cross the aisle and vote with them. As of today, that changes.

When the 116th Congress is sworn in, Democrats will control the House of Representatives. The House controls the nation’s purse-strings. That means that, unless Democrats pass a bill funding Trump’s wall, it’s not getting built.

But that’s the beginning of a political battle, not the end of one.

Democrats in the 116th Congress may not want to fund Trump’s wall, but the reason the Federal Government is shutdown right now is that the (Republican) 115th Congress didn’t want to fund it either. Without that funding, however, Trump won’t sign on to fund the government and the shutdown will continue.

That’s not going to change once there is a Democratic House for Trump to blame.

There are at least two sides to every argument, but both the President and the Senate are going to do their level best to pin the shutdown on Democrats. That means that House Democrats need to do some hard thinking about how long they’d be willing to keep the government shuttered to prevent Trump from building his wall.

It Can’t Just Be About Money

From a practical standpoint, Trump’s $5 Billion dollar demand isn’t that big of an ask. It’s not chump-change, even by governmental standards, but a lengthy shutdown can cost just as much.

Back in 2013 Standard & Poor’s did an analysis of the costs of that shutdown and worked out that the direct cost to the government was about $200,000,000 per day. Broader economic impacts ran to about $1.5 Billion per day. Those numbers are rough and a half-decade out of date, but if it’s simple financial calculus the fact is that there will come a time that the cost of fighting the wall exceeds the cost of just building it.

The Price of Principles

If opposition to the wall isn’t just about it being an expensive, stupid idea then that opposition has to be about more than just money. It has to be about morality or politics.

There’s no shortage of reasons between those two: it could be America’s moral obligation to refugees, America’s responsibility for the political and economic chaos in South/Central America, or just a desire to see Trump’s base turn on him when he fails to deliver on his only substantive campaign promise.

But what all of those have in common is that there’s no end date or possible compromise. In taking these positions Democrats resolve to die on this hill as Trump has resolved to die on his.

Tell Congress What You Think

How and how hard Congress fights the President on this will determine how long this shutdown wears on. You can write to Congress about this or any other topic by sending the word Resist to Resistbot on Facebook Messenger, Telegram, or as a Twitter direct message. If none of those work for you, Resistbot also supports old fashioned SMS: text RESIST to 50409 to get started. It takes 2 minutes to make a difference.

A Way Out

There is, of course, one way, out but it’s an unlikely one. Clean funding bills without funding for the Wall have cleared both the House and Senate independently (though they differ on other, non-wall related things). If both House Democrats and Trump refuse to budge on this, the House and Senate could override the President’s veto by a two-thirds majority of both houses. There’s good reason to believe that such a bill could pass with the required margins if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would allow a vote on it

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