Our credit card is maxed out again — Monday, the U.S. Treasury hit the authorized $18 trillion debt ceiling. Like homeowners in a similar crunch, the government is now shifting cash around to avoid default.
At some point this year, though, we’re likely to revisit the dreary midnight drama of yet another government shutdown, or possible default, if the debt limit isn’t raised. And working from the dictum that no crisis should be wasted, Republicans running Congress now say they want to attach policy “priorities” to any bill increasing the debt ceiling.
Those priorities include repealing Obamacare, lowering corporate taxes, the Keystone XL pipeline and a rollback of recent immigration orders.
We’ve seen this drama before. It rarely ends well for the Republicans. Just this year, an effort to attach immigration legislation to the Homeland Security spending bill collapsed.
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That attempt, and others like it, failed because there’s no worse political strategy than attaching controversial policy changes to “must pass” bills.
Deadlines and shutdowns almost always work in favor of the side resisting change — the calendar is their friend. Spending bills and debt limits are no different. When a bill must pass, threatening that it won’t pass is pretty meaningless.
There is another way. To get something you want, you have to give up something you have.
Let’s say you’re a Republican who really wants to cut corporate taxes. Why not attach that to a bill increasing the minimum wage? That way you get something, but the other side does too. That increases the motivation for both sides to make a deal instead of just running out the clock.
And Democrats — you want immigration reform? Trade it for higher defense spending, or the oil pipeline, or something else the GOP wants.
Some policy choices probably can’t be compromised. There isn’t much Republicans could offer in exchange for repealing Obamacare, for example. And Democrats don’t have anything to trade for major tax increases.
But on almost every other policy question there are paths to agreement that involve both sides giving a little to get something. It’s how government used to work.
I traded baseball cards when I was a kid. Even at 9 years of age I knew I couldn’t get a Willie Mays without surrendering a Mickey Mantle.
It’s evident most members of Congress have never cracked open a pack of baseball cards. Which is why we’re headed for another dreary government shutdown argument this year.