by Rachel Bovard
There’s only one area where bipartisanship still reigns in Washington: avoidance.
Republican and Democrat leaders this week held hands and used the funeral events for President George H. W. Bush as an excuse to move their funding deadline—which previously expired on December 7—two weeks forward, to December 21, four days before Christmas.
In doing this, Congress isn’t getting festive. Rather, backing up a government funding deadline dangerously close to the Christmas holiday is an old political tactic, designed to assure passage of bloated and controversial spending bills. In the old days, the carrots in this equation were earmarks—funding pet projects of lawmakers was the way to grease the skids on controversial bills.
But now that earmarks have been banned (in theory, anyway), the only option left is a stick: threatening lawmakers with chaos, missed Christmas holidays and a government shutdown, unless they instantly (and many times, without reading) pass whatever bill their leaders cook up.
This is a vexing development for conservatives, particularly when it comes to the big will-they-won’t-they question circulating around Washington: the fate of Trump’s border wall. If GOP leaders are already willing to waste critical weeks in the waning days of their majority, what else are they pondering?
Here are three ways this December funding bill could go sideways on immigration policy.
Pretending to fund Trump’s wall while not actually doing it.
Congress already head-faked on Trump’s wall in March, when they allotted $1.6 billion for 39 miles of “pedestrian fencing,” “planning,” and “border security technology.” While these may be components of a border wall system, they are not, in fact, construction of the “physically imposing” barrier that the Trump administration has requested.
In fact, the March omnibus specifically prohibited money from being spent on the border wall prototypes that President Trump requested last year. If any money is allotted for a border wall in this next funding bill, it must not be limited solely to planning or pedestrian fencing.
Fake news is already a big problem. Let’s not have a fake wall, too.
Trading away important immigration policies for a fake wall.
Congressional Republicans have already announced they will avoid a shutdown “at all costs.” This significantly restricts their ability to win concessions from Democrats, who know they just need to hold the line up until December 21, and wait for Republicans to crumble against the shutdown deadline.
But more troubling is the apparent willingness of the GOP to forfeit important policies before that deadline is even reached. Republican leadership is reportedly willing to remove the Trump Administration’s citizenship question from the 2020 census in exchange for limited funding for the border wall.
The Left has lost its collective mind over the Trump Administration seeking to return a question about citizenship to the census. I say “return” because, despite the Left’s claims that a census question on citizenship is empirical proof of Trump’s inherent racism, questions about citizenship have appeared in some form or another on census throughout our history. Before President Obama removed the question in 2010, a question about citizenship had appeared in every census from 1890 to 1950, and was included in every long-form census questionnaire from 1970 to 2000.
That this is necessary information to gather is self-evident. For one thing, being able to identify the various documented and undocumented populations helps apportion resources effectively—from public schools, to food stamps, to Medicare and Medicaid, all of our entitlement programs are funded based on population criteria.
So, too, is accurate congressional representation. Electoral integrity also depends on knowing how many citizens there are. After screaming about voter fraud in the 2018 midterms (despite claiming for years that none existed), you’d think Democrats would at least be on board with that.
But perhaps even more important is the role the census question has played in the Left’s ongoing campaign around “Orange Man Bad.” Trump has been tagged as a racist and a bigot simply for doing as Thomas Jefferson suggested when he proposed a citizenship question in the census: “exactly distinguishing the increase of population by birth and immigration.”
Only in #Resistance-NeverTrump America could that be called racist.
Republicans have allowed Democrats to drive the narrative on immigration reform by conceding on every point. They scurry in the face of every false claim of racism. They fail to dispute Democrats when they conflate an intolerance of illegal immigration with an intolerance of immigrants. And perhaps most frustrating, they’ve refused to call out Democrats for their raging hypocrisy on border enforcement and family separation policy.
Republicans have ceded so much ground on immigration policy that they’re up against a cliff. Trading that remaining foothold away for marginal, restricted wall funding while cowing to the Left’s claims of moral superiority would put them perilously close to having no coherent policy at all.
Punting the decision to Nancy Pelosi’s House.
Among the funding provisions that must pass in December is funding for the Department of Homeland Security—the agency in charge of border security. If any fight is to be had over funding for the wall or border security resources, this is the place.
Unsurprisingly, incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has proposed doing a short-term extension of the DHS funding bill into the next Congress—when she is in charge. What would be jaw dropping is if Republicans decided to agree with her.
It’s bad enough that this Republican Congress has made zero gains on immigration policy after two years of unified government. It could only be made worse by willingly handing over the mantle of power to Pelosi, before she’s officially elected Speaker of the House.
Worse still, it would undermine everything Republican leaders promised Trump, and their own base, they would do. Not only have Republicans spent eight years running on promises to strengthen border security, repeal Obama’s illegal executive amnesty, and reform the legal immigration system, but they’ve been promising Trump a fight on his border wall for months.
While at least one Senate Republican has called Pelosi’s demands “unacceptable,” this is the same Congress that has mishandled or backtracked on every immigration policy pledge they’ve made since taking office.
Hindsight is said to be 20/20. Yet, after losing 40 seats in a midterm where the two biggest issues on the minds of voters were immigration and healthcare, congressional Republicans still don’t seem to get it. Voters expect them to do what they said they would do, on immigration, and on everything else. They have two more weeks to figure it out.
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Rachel Bovard is senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute. Beginning in 2006, she served in both the House and Senate in various roles including as legislative director for Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and policy director for the Senate Steering Committee under the successive chairmanships of Senator Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), where she advised Committee members on strategy related to floor procedure and policy matters. In the House, she worked as senior legislative assistant to Congressman Donald Manzullo (R-Il.), and Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas). She is the former director of policy services for the Heritage Foundation. Follow her on Twitter at @RachelBovard.