With great power comes great responsibility.
When it comes to avoiding government shutdowns, that’s a lesson the Republican Party, suddenly running Congress and the White House and currently eligible to take pretty much all of the blame if things grind to a halt, appears to have learned.
Last week, moderate Republicans and Democrats agreed to a one-week spending extension to keep the federal government open. That gave them time to work up a funding plan through Sept. 30 that garnered broad agreement Sunday and should see official passage this week. In the long run, the lesson of this successful process, if leaders in both parties learn it, will revolve around the compromises that lead to a deal and the bipartisan effort that brought moderates together and shut out extremists.
This six-month, $1 trillion spending plan got President Donald Trump and House and Senate GOP leaders increased military spending of $15 billion, which was half of what they wanted. It got them increased border security spending, but Trump got nothing for a border wall or a deportation force. There was a symbolic cut for the Environmental Protection Agency budget, but the EPA kept 99 percent of its money.
Despite Trump’s call for drastic cuts worth $18 billion to domestic program, there aren’t any extreme changes. Planned Parenthood was not defunded. Obamacare subsidies to insurance companies that keep rates affordable for low-income customers were not axed. Threatened slashes to Community Development Block Grants that support programs including Meals on Wheels and heating aid for needy Americans were untouched. And the National Institutes of Health got a $2 billion increase to carry on important work that includes biomedical research, not the $1.2 billion cut Trump had pushed.
While President Barack Obama had the White House, the Republican Party was dedicated to obstructionism and the far right wing led the gridlock. In 2013, the last time the GOP shut down the government, the party paid the price in public disapproval. The same was true when the House GOP forced two shutdowns in the mid-1990s. For decades, such shutdowns, fueled by the right wing over spending and debt ceiling increases, have been threatened by the GOP with regularity. Now, even though the Freedom Caucus has said it will vote against this spending deal, no one is listening. Trump said he was “very happy” with it.
This last-minute deal-making is no substitute for the orderly budget and appropriations process that was once the norm. But in the best-case scenario, the specter of a shutdown may have reached the end of its run.
Americans expect their government to function. The GOP has a wing that doesn’t want it to. Now, with Trump, the Democratic Party’s most extreme leaders also want obstruction. But House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as Trump, need to keep things running. That can’t be done without the help of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. That’s what horse-trading, compromise and negotiation are about.
In other words, it means a traditional, functional government of the kind that made this country great, and kept it great. — The editorial board