Off to the Races

GOP Needs to Keep Focus on Tax Cuts and the Economy, Not a Shutdown

The last thing Republicans need in a tough election year is to make voters think they can’t handle running the government.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Jan. 18, 2018, 8 p.m.

Democrats and Republicans are playing a game of legislative chicken over government funding, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and the border wall as well as the Children’s Health Insurance Program—with a shutdown deadline of midnight Friday. The problem with the “game of chicken” metaphor is that it implies a fair fight, which this isn’t. When one party has all of the power, the White House as well as majorities in the House and the Senate, that party has total ownership of the government.

Put simply, the GOP would “own” any government shutdown.

As a practical matter, given that there have only been three government shutdowns in the past 25 years (November 1995, December 1995-January 1996, and October 2013), the odds of having a real shutdown of more than a few hours—maybe a few days, or a week at most—are not that high. But that doesn’t mean such an event is harmless to the country, for the markets but most especially for Republicans, whose House majority is extremely tenuous and their Senate majority is now in some jeopardy as well. The GOP was already on thin ice, and this adds considerably more weight.

Whether there is a shutdown this weekend or not, there is one central message that Republicans should want to be front and center in public discourse—and two that they definitely should not.

Republicans desperately need people to focus on the fact that their tax bill passed, and that with President Obama out of office and Congress is Republican hands, businesses no longer feel under siege. Instead, they feel confident enough to hire, expand, invest and compensate their employees better, and voters shouldn’t jeopardize that by electing a Democratic Congress. The past three quarters showed economic growth of about 3 percent, and if the economy continues on this pace through the midterm elections, it is plausible that enough voters—even those who may not like President Trump or approve of much of what he says, does, or tweets—will decide that they like where the economy is enough to give Republicans the benefit of the doubt.

The two things the GOP should want to avoid at any cost is contribute to a sense that the Trump administration and Hill Republicans are a) too incompetent or b) too irresponsible to be trusted running the federal government, and so a Democratic majority in the House and/or Senate is needed.

For Democrats, the job is much simpler: Stay out of the way, and don’t screw it up. As this column noted a week ago: Democrats, no offense, but this election is not about you. By their very nature, midterm elections are referenda on the party in power, usually the party holding the White House, occasionally about the party controlling Congress, in this case, both. To the extent that this election becomes about Democrats, that is probably not a good thing for the Blue Team. When the other party is busy hanging itself, why get in the way? The last thing Democrats should want is to be seen as obstructionist, trying to exacerbate an already-bad situation.

One of the biggest challenges for congressional Republicans right now is that there is a large number of GOP representatives and senators from solidly conservative, Republican states or districts, and they do not need the support of any independents, moderates, or Democrats to get reelected. As a result, they are not motivated to temper their strongest ideological urges or seek compromise because they couldn’t lose a general election even if they tried. Those states and districts are largely not the ones that will determine the GOP’s majority status in the House and Senate, but the members from those places can surely jeopardize things.

All of this seems pretty basic and obvious, but tuning into the various cable news networks and listening to voices from both parties suggest that it isn’t. There is a tendency on both the right and left to view things totally myopically, to see things through a straw, oblivious to how something will sound or play among swing voters and in states and districts unlike their own. If your goal is to avoid a partisan-fueled government shutdown, that’s bad news.

What We're Following See More »
Mueller Reports
1 days ago

"The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has delivered a report on his inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election to Attorney General William P. Barr ... Barr told congressional leaders in a letter late Friday that he may brief them within days on the special counsel’s findings. 'I may be in a position to advise you of the special counsel’s principal conclusions as soon as this weekend,' he wrote in a letter to the leadership of the House and Senate Judiciary committees. It is up to Mr. Barr how much of the report to share with Congress and, by extension, the American public. The House voted unanimously in March on a nonbinding resolution to make public the report’s findings, an indication of the deep support within both parties to air whatever evidence prosecutors uncovered."

Cohen Back on the Hill for More Testimony
2 weeks ago
Pascrell Ready to Demand Trump Taxes
2 weeks ago

"House Democrats plan to formally demand President Donald Trump’s tax returns in about two weeks, a key lawmaker said Tuesday. They intend to seek a decade’s worth of his personal tax returns, though not his business filings, said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee."

Cohen's Attorneys Discussed Pardon with Trump Lawyers
2 weeks ago

"An attorney for Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, raised the possibility of a pardon with attorneys for the president and his company after federal agents raided Mr. Cohen’s properties in April, according to people familiar with the discussions. Conversations among those parties are now being probed by congressional investigators."

Judge Rules GSA Must Turn Over Documents on FBI Relocation
2 weeks ago

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.