The whole American system is built on compromise.
The concept of a House and Senate is the result of the so-called “Great Compromise,” arising from the 1787 Constitutional Convention. The “Virginia Plan” required representation in Congress to be based on population; the “New Jersey Plan” entailed equal representation for all states. So, they merged the two, in a compromise.
Take the Electoral College. Delegates to the Constitutional Convention differed as to whether voters should directly elect the president. Yet others worried some voters wouldn’t be wise enough to choose. They settled on a compromise. Citizens would cast their ballots for electors and then the Electoral College would actually pick the president.
So here we are, well into the fourth week of the longest government shutdown in history. No end in sight. If this is ever going to end, President Trump, alongside congressional Democrats and Republicans, must do as their political forefathers did and compromise.
It’s unclear how and when that might happen.
House Democrats last week approved four spending bills to re-open various sectors of the federal government. Proponents could interpret those bills as an effort by the House to do what it can to end the standoff: pass bills on a bipartisan basis to halt the shutdown. But a detractor might view the legislation as mere “messaging” bills. Democrats just passing bills to repeatedly throw down a marker indicates they’re willing to fund the government. But the wall is off the table. Or, is the legislation an effort to apply pressure on Republicans to vote yes and coax the Senate to consider those bills?
Good luck with that. One bill courted as few as eight GOP yeas. Twelve Republicans on the high end. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has shown no interest in advancing any of these packages. McConnell blocked an effort last week by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., to pass House-approved measures.
What about McConnell? Critics note that McConnell isn’t even in the game here. In another universe, McConnell may take the bills the House approved and try to re-tool them in a fashion which can command 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and move them through the Senate. But McConnell knows Trump won’t sign any of these packages. So the Kentucky Republican isn’t even entertaining those options. The Senate is a black hole right now, with McConnell blaming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Democrats may denigrate McConnell for ignoring the House bills. Or, is McConnell simply responsive to the realpolitik of the situation? He knows the president won’t touch any bills without a wall. So why waste time?
And then there is Trump himself. The Senate approved a bill before Christmas to cauterize the government spending issue and the wall until February. But Trump phoned then-House Speaker Paul Ryan the next morning, declaring he wouldn’t sign the bill. As a result, Ryan pivoted and put a bill on the floor to fund the government on an interim basis and provide $5 billion for the wall. The GOP-controlled House then cut town and sent the bill to the Senate.
The only compromise in the entire operation? The Senate forged one. It took five hours of negotiation for senators to agree to a bipartisan compromise just to put the House-passed spending bill with the wall on the floor.
The House, under both Republican and Democratic-control? No compromises. The Senate, both late last year and this year? No compromises. President Trump? No compromises.
So now we are in a government shutdown shamble with no way out. The exercise confounds longtime Washington hands, used to lengthy negotiations, all-night sessions, weekends of backroom trades, offers and counteroffers.
No one in Washington has seen a crisis like this one in recent memory. Not efforts to salvage arms treaties, pass health care reform, defeat health care reform, battles over Supreme Court Justices like Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh, fights over the debt ceiling, skirmishes over who should be House speaker and even the government shutdown battles of the mid-1990s.
There’s been none of that because no one is really interested in compromise so far. The unstoppable force against the unmovable object. The north sides of two magnets repelling each other. Oil and water.
Everyone retreated to their corners. Trump stews in the White House, sending incendiary tweets. He threatens to declare a national emergency over the border, but hasn’t done it yet. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Schumer stand their ground. McConnell cools on the sidelines.
In his inauguration address, President John F. Kennedy said “let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
The only way they can reach a compromise is with negotiation. There can be no compromise because there is no negotiation, at least right now.
The whole thing is built on compromise. Otherwise, the system fails.
And that’s where we’ve been for weeks.
Capitol Attitude is a weekly column written by members of the Fox News Capitol Hill team. Their articles take you inside the halls of Congress, and cover the spectrum of policy issues being introduced, debated and voted on there.