Thursday, February 5, 2015

What They Can't Say (Conservatives on the DHS Funding Filibuster)

Yesterday the Democratic minority in the Senate blocked the proposed DHS funding bill that tied to it a defund-provision for Obama's Amnesty. This was entirely predictable and Obama had said he'd veto it anyway (if it somehow did pass). Obama has called for a "clean DHS funding bill," meaning a bill solely to fund the Department of Homeland Security and without any additional riders (especially none to do with reversing his amnesty actions, Obamacare, or similar things).

Here's HotAir's Jazz Shaw making the case that Obama has given the game away:
Indeed, Mr. President, [ not funding DHS] would make no sense at all. And now let’s take a look at the actual bill which is already a sure thing in the House and the matching measure currently being held up by your party in the Senate, as well as the complaints you listed above: 
Wages for border patrol and customs agents? Paid for. 
Wages for immigration officers and Coast Guard employees? Got it covered. 
TSA screeners? There may be a lot of gritting of teeth over that one, but it’s paid for as well. 
It’s all there, President Obama, with the money ready to flow and the paychecks waiting to be covered. All it requires is your party to put it through to your desk and for you to sign it.
What’s that you say? There isn’t money for your executive amnesty program? Well, we’re sorry to inform you, but the people who elected the current majority were promised that funding for that would not be supported. If you would really like to see it happen I’m sure we could draft up a separate bill funding just those activities and see how many votes it attracts. (But I’m sorry to say, your prospects are not good.) [added emphasis--other emphasis in the original]
Over at PowerLine, John Hinderaker is just super outraged:
In a shocking move, Senate Democrats today filibustered all funding for the Department of Homeland Security. They refused to allow the DHS funding bill, which has already passed the House, to be brought up for a vote. This means that funding for DHS, including its many vital national security functions, will soon run out. 
. . .  
Is this the most outrageous thing the Democrats have done in our modern history? I don’t know, but it is on the list. One irony is that at least seven Senate Democrats have expressed concerns about, or outright opposition to, Obama’s attempt to unilaterally repeal portions of our immigration laws and replace them by executive fiat. Nevertheless, they voted with their party to shut down DHS in order to force the funding of activities that they themselves know to be illegal. For putting party loyalty above the Constitution, not to mention national security, Senate Democrats deserve the severest condemnation.
Both Shaw and Hinderaker are intelligent, generally sober, and politically astute individuals--both of them know that what they are saying is, fundamentally either "misleadingly half the story" or, if you will, sort of a lie. The reason for this is because (a) part of their job is to cheerlead and thought-lead for the base (their readers) and (b) because what they are saying in a certain light--the most favorable light--is, well, it's true enough to support a desperate argument.

On the other hand, let's look at the statements from a more objective (The Omnivore can hear you laughing--yes, through the computer screen--He totally can!) perspective.

It's Paid For!
Jazz Shaw's position that Obama wants DHS paid for--and the bill? The passed bill? It pays for it!--is eliding the point so badly it burns through obtuse and almost finds its way back to clever. After all, in his coda, he suggests that Obama, wanting DHS paid for, should sign the bill that both funds DHS and de-funds his amnesty and then advance a separate pay-for-amnesty bill and take his chances!

Jazz hopes you don't apply his logic in reverse: pass a clean bill and then launch a separate defund-amnesty bill. The odds of it passing? They'd be exactly the same! Jazz, of course, knows this--but can't say it.

It's An Outrage!
John Hinderaker is actually outraged on two fronts--he just obscures the second behind the first. The first is that Obama is putting the nation in jeopardy by de-funding DHS! The second is that Obama's amnesty is unconstitutional! He doesn't address the reasoning for declaring Obama's amnesty unconstitutional--or why, if literally illegal--there is not some other remedy.

He can't--because while very unpopular with the GOP, Obama's actions on Amnesty do not actually rise to the level of 'actionable.' Of course Hinderaker can't say that.

What's Really Going On?
What a more realistic view of the situation would have you believe is that the Republicans are using the (common) political maneuver of attaching something they want (de-funding Amnesty) to something the other other party wants (funding DHS) so that the compromise position will take the good with the bad. This is, in fact, pretty common (or, at least, was in eras where deals could be made) and, The Omnivore assesses, pretty legitimate.

But that isn't what's actually happening here. What's happening here is that the Republicans are attaching something they want (de-funding Amnesty) to something everybody wants--or at least says they want--(funding DHS) in the hopes that funding DHS will be seen as important enough that the Senate Democrats cave in and either Obama has to sign it or (hopefully) bears the full brunt of public disapproval when he doesn't.

The problem (as this blog has noted before) is that (a) Senate Democrats would have to cave in (which seems unlikely--but see below) and then (b) Obama would have to cave in (which seems unlikely with his positives climbing), but if (c) Obama doesn't want to just cave, the public has to buy that either somehow funding DHS and de-funding Amnesty are intrinsically related or that funding DHS is so important it doesn't matter what else happens.

The problem is with (c):  if funding DHS is of paramount importance then the public will get to ask why Congress doesn't just fund it. The idea that the bill funds everything but this one part (and then explicitly prevents the one part--the ICE part--from using its collected fees to do its job) is a different sell than just not-funding-it.

This is the problem with the "attach my thing to the thing everyone wants" course of action: either the GOP has to come out and say "Look, we actually don't want to fund DHS--not really--so this is a Democrat thing" or else it looks like "Look, we all agree that doing this thing (DHS) is a good idea--but unless my voting bloc gets its way, we're going to keep it from happening."

"Keep it from happening" is, alas, another term for 'holding it hostage.' Now, you can argue that amnesty polls badly: True. But if that were enough to mandate it, we'd have a ton of extra background checks for firearms (or, at least, all the congress people would be making that case, right?). There are only a few polls that "matter" and they already happened.

The poll that Jazz and John would likely say mattered most happened Nov 6, 2014. Certainly one can make the case that the mid-term election has spoken for the will-of-the-people by installing the GOP everywhere. That's fine--but the 2012 election installed Obama in the oval office with the veto power. If electoral mandates were enough to settle the issue Obama's EV margarine should be enough to have rammed any agenda he wanted through at the time.

This brings us to the actual solution: Keep the House and the Senate and win the presidency in 2016. That's the solution to Obama's Amnesty--but neither Jazz nor John can say that.

To say that would (as has been pointed out here before) fly in the face of the conservative messaging that simply standing firm and sticking to your guns will win the day. That's not the case. This is why Ted Cruz, of all people, has suggested rolling back only the 2014 changes--he hopes they will be seen as less popular and could therefore gain Democratic support:
The 2014 order is obviously a much easier sell because Republicans have managed to keep it in the news cycle, both as a stand-alone issue and in connection with DHS funding; but how many times has the GOP been in this position of having the option to address Obama’s terrible policies incrementally and seen resistance from the more conservative wing of the caucus?
In this case Legal Insurrection's Amy Millier is right--a step-wise approach that attacks specific (and most recent) parts of the plan is a smart way to go. She also notes that the base probably won't like it. Part of the latter problem, though, is that the GOP has badly oversold their capabilities to people who (frankly) don't understand exactly how the process works or have a very partisan understanding of how the public at large will see the 'debate' (that conservative ads on conservative message boards pitch FEMA invasions, food shortages, and impending apocalyptic economic collapse may, shall we say, be related to the world-view that's foundational to this belief?).

The problem is that both Jazz and John do know better. They know that Obama asking for a "clean bill" to fund DHS may be 'willfully naive, politically speaking' if not actually pig-headedly arrogant--but by virtue of being both the "status quo" (today DHS is funded, tomorrow it can be equally funded) and being what both sides at least say they want, the Republicans have effectively ceded the strategic high-ground (again--as with the government shutdown).

They can't say that because their readership would rebel--but that's unfortunate. Obama is enacting an amnesty that half the electorate really, really doesn't want--and the rest mostly kind of doesn't want. He's playing to a strategic portion of his base in doing so (and gaining some popularity by 'standing up to the GOP' with other portions of his base, probably). With a majority in Congress and a wave-election just a couple of months old, it would be a good time for the GOP to take a position of educating their base about what's realistic and how the process really works.

This could lead to some actual negotiation (remove Amnesty--but add something else congressional Democrats really want--like Pork even--like the good old days when things got done?) which would help to restore faith in the process. That kind of pressure--bipartisan agreement--really would put pressure on Obama in a way public grandstanding simply will not.

But that would also mean working with Democrats--it would mean saying that the other party has some ideas that are at least worth horse trading over. Jazz and John might possibly even have some ideas on that front--they're both legitimately smart guys--but they can't say that.

Not to their readership.

Edited to Add: In a humdinger of a story, The Daily Signal has an article up that, if read by itself, would leave the reader with NO IDEA why there's a conflict between the parties. It only notes the added amendments designed to (a) de-fund the amnesty and then (b) prevent fee-based funding from being used for it as "the only part of DHS that's not funded." Well done, Daily Signal!

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