Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Never Mind DHS. Think Obamacare Subsidies

All right, enough of Greece for a length of time to be determined by the news cycle.  Back to the US. Last year the lame duck Congress passed a bill keeping all the US government except the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funded for the remainder of the fiscal year.  This will prevent government shut downs until October or thereabouts, although it will not prevent another debt ceiling showdown, which is really a lot more dangerous.  Homeland Security, on the other hand, will run out of funding at the beginning of March.  Republicans are seeking to tie funding of DHS to ending Obama's offering of temporary visas to certain people who are in the country illegally.  Democrats are filibustering the measure in the Senate, and Obama has vowed to veto it if it does pass, so a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security may be eminent.  In the latest chapter, Senate Republicans have agreed to separate the measures and have passed funding for DHS without the immigration provision.  It has passed by a vote of of 98-2!  The measure blocking Obama's visa program is next.  I have to wonder the Democrats, in exchange for Republican support of the "clean" funding bill, have agreed not to call the filibuster on the anti-visa measure and will allow Republicans to pass it by a simple majority.  Of course, it will be meaningless even if they do, since Obama will simply veto the measure.  At worst that will might be mildly embarrassing to him, but probably not even that.  Naturally, House Republicans recognize this fact and are dead set against it, vowing to vote only for a measure the that links the two.  So the Department of Homeland Security may run out of funding in a few days.

And my only reaction can be YAWWWN!

As countless others have pointed out, shutting down the Department of Homeland Security sounds bad.  It makes it appear that Republicans are putting our safety at risk.  It is an easy issue for Democrats to demagogue.  But really, most DHS employees are considered "essential" and will therefore continue to work, though without pay.  They will be angry about that, of course, and legitimately so.  But there is no danger to US security.  Very few Americans will be even minimally inconvenienced.  Certain police departments won't get their anti-terrorism funding and training.  So much the better!  Some people have suggested that Boehner will, once again, be forced to pass a clean funding bill with mostly Democratic votes once enough pressure builds.  My guess, though, is that this time the pressure will be a lot less intense than last time, and will build much more slowly. Presumably it will have two main sources, Democratic demagoguery (Republicans are shutting down our Homeland Security!) and DHS employees legitimately angry about not getting their paychecks.

Some people say that Republicans want to avoid the debacle of the last government shutdown.  Others say, what debacle?  Being blamed for the shutdown didn't prevent Republicans from getting a landslide in the 2014 elections.  My own thinking is somewhere in between.  On the one hand, the government shutdown could hardly be called a disaster from the Republicans insofar as it did nothing to stop their landslide a year later.  On the other hand, it wasn't a great triumph either, in the sense that they were forced to back down in a humiliating fashion and did not get any substantive concessions.  So my guess is that if the Republicans had a choice between (A) having a showdown, begin humiliatingly forced to back down, getting nothing in exchange, and going on to win by a landslide and (B) getting no substantive concessions and winning by a landslide, but without the humiliation, my guess is they would prefer to avoid the humiliation.  I could be wrong.  Maybe the satisfaction of a showdown is more important to some Tea Party types than the ultimate outcome.

Likewise, what about John Boehner?  Is it true that his speakership is in danger if he passes the bill with mostly Democrats?  Or, given the number of times he has done just that, is he safe in his perch, knowing that no one else wants the thankless job?  Here again, I am inclined to take an intermediate view.  If Boehner made a regular habit of passing routine legislation with mostly Democratic votes, his caucus would be (justifiably) outraged and would no doubt depose him.  But if he limits the practice to real must-pass bills, such as budgets and raising the debt ceiling, my guess is that a lot of Republicans have some sympathy and want him to succeed, although they would not dare express that view openly by, say, actually voting for the measure.

But in the end, I just can't get very excited about the DHS funding psuedo-drama.  It interests me mostly as a dress rehearsal for the real drama that may be coming up in June if the Supreme Court cuts of people's Obamacare subsidies.  Now that will be some serious drama!

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