Waking from his weeks-long slumber, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is expected to bring dueling bills to end the government shutdown to the Senate floor for a vote Thursday: a “bipartisan” proposal that includes funding for President Trump’s border wall, and a Democratic-penned one that does not.
The reality is, the bill the Democrats are pushing is genuinely bipartisan, the product of fruitful negotiations between the two parties’ appropriators. The other bill includes those provisions, but layers on a set of immigration proposals written by the Trump administration that are “bipartisan” in the same way the Affordable Care Act was “bipartisan.”
The Democrats who wrote the ACA included a number of ideas championed by Republicans in the hope of getting some GOP lawmakers to buy in. They did not, and Republicans rightly scoff at claims the ACA has any hint of GOP support. Similarly, the Trump administration has included several ideas in its immigration proposal that it says came from Democrats, such as providing a way for Central American children to apply for U.S. asylum in their home countries. It also includes the Bridge Act, a genuinely bipartisan proposal to put deportations on hold for some Dreamers until Congress can work out a permanent solution. But there was no negotiation over the proposal as a whole, which contains a number of other provisions — including several related to asylum — that Democrats consider anathema. Not in the individual insurance mandate sense of, “It was a conservative idea but I reject it now because it’s unpopular,” but in the “I never would ever support this” sense.
Neither bill is likely to overcome the obligatory partisan filibuster. Some sanguine analysts have suggested that the exercise will lead to the first real bargaining between Trump and congressional Democrats, but that will only happen if Democrats agree to negotiate before the government reopens and if Trump softens his unwavering demand for $5.7 billion to build the wall.
I am not so sanguine. This exercise seems locked into a zero-sum contest to determine a winner and a loser, not the sort of give and take that is routine in divided government.
Part of the reason is that McConnell, a crafty deal-maker, has not tried to find a way out of the impasse. It’s striking that he would tee up a vote on a hot-button immigration bill written by the White House, not by his own colleagues. He didn’t even try to work out a bipartisan compromise on that one, choosing instead to simply label it as one.
It’s a label that shouldn’t fool anybody.