Shoots and Ladders
It's past time to start thinking like Republicans when negotiating with Republicans
While we were1 distracted by other news2 President Biden and Democrats in Congress took House Republicans up on an offer to extend funding for the federal government a few weeks into the new year.
Most of the reporting has treated the GOP offer as a true stopgap: no catch, no ransom demand, no partisan spending cuts, none of the usual Republican funny business. Just a brief extension of the current budget.
And to bolster this interpretation, observers cite two things: First, House Democrats once again supplied most of the votes required to pass the bill. Second, Republicans spent Tuesday engaging in or threatening physical violence all over Capitol Hill. For those two things to be true, Democrats must think they got the better of the deal, and Republicans must be angry about it! A “a major compromise from [House Speaker Mike] Johnson,” according to the Washington Post.
But I think this is mostly backward.
Republicans, who have embraced political violence more generally in the Trump era, got puffy-chested over a variety of petty beefs unrelated to the fight over appropriations. And Democrats did concede another ransom to Republicans: this time, it was the idea that the government is unitary and continuous—that its various departments and functions constitute a single package of changing priorities and must not be cynically pitted against one another.
WORSE THAN A CRIME
It’s true that House Speaker Mike Johnson offered to extend funding to all federal departments at current levels. The catch is that the new funding will expire at different times for different departments. Some will be funded through January 19; the rest (including the Department of Defense) through February 2. A “laddered” approach, Republicans call it.
This may sound arbitrary and unimportant, and it’s tempting to take solace in the fact that the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, after first proposing this idea, turned against it. But the appeal to the GOP should be quite obvious: Decoupling the defense and security budgets from other agencies disfavored by Republicans will make it easier for them to take those agencies hostage and slash their budgets without doing collateral damage to the Pentagon.
I regret not checking in on the GOP plan sooner because now the die is cast and I worry, though am not certain, that taking Republicans up on their offer was a mistake.
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