We judge politicians on what they fight for. What our elected leaders prioritize, bellow about, and gamble their popularity on is the best guide to whether we should support them.
Right now, Senate Democrats have one powerful card to play. The Republican-controlled Senate cannot pass a spending bill to keep the government running without Democratic votes. Democrats can threaten to shut down the government and for big enough priorities, follow through.
Democrats should be using that power to fight for measures that can better the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans. Instead, they are investing their political capital to fight for 800,000 Dreamers here illegally from whom President Donald Trump is pulling protections. The top 2020 Democratic presidential candidates in the Senate, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren say they won’t vote for a spending bill without a permanent Dreamer fix.
The opportunity to shut down the government is the same power Republicans wielded like an (occasionally backfiring) cannon when Barack Obama was president. The GOP used it to force the permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts, putting trillions of dollars in the pockets of voters. They used it to force massive spending cuts, holding down the deficit voters must someday repay. The GOP also threatened shutdowns to stymie the Affordable Care Act, increase defense spending and oppose abortion.
Win or lose, the GOP used the threat of a government shutdown to advertise to vast swaths of voters that it was fighting for them. Now, Democrats are unwilling or unable to do the same.
The next federal shutdown looms a few days before Christmas, as the GOP tries to pass a tax bill that will run up $1.5 trillion in borrowing. That money is mostly going to go to the very, very wealthy, at the expense of the middle class. So what should the Democrats say they’ll trade to keep the government running? How about:
- “The GOP needs to keep the estate tax on the nation’s wealthiest in its tax plan and use that $250 billion to lower middle-class tax rates before we support a spending bill.”
- “The GOP must cut the proposed corporate tax decrease from 20 percent to 15 percent and use that $500 billion to restore deductions for state and local taxes before we can support a spending bill.”
- “The GOP must include a $1 trillion infrastructure plan to rebuild the nation, paid for via smaller cuts on the corporate and estate tax, before we can support this spending plan.”
Granting the Dreamers permanent resident status is a noble, proper goal. But by prioritizing it above all else, Democrats tell every coal-country parent struggling with bills and every small-business owner underbid by competitors willing to hire workers here illegally and every Long Island homeowner who is about to lose tens of thousands of dollars in tax deductions that the only people the party really cares about are immigrants brought here illegally.
Think fast, what did Hillary Clinton promise to try to do for you and yours? Nothing much comes to mind, does it?
Clinton got beaten by a TV huckster most Americans don’t much care for and many Americans hate like a raw calves-liver sandwich on wet white bread. Democrats lost both chambers of Congress to a GOP that is openly employed by billionaires to create an oligarch paradise here on Earth.
You only get beaten by a candidate and a party that bad when you are, in some sense, worse. Democrats are worse at politics. And they’re not getting any better.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.