Schumer's Democrats are using a pile of myths to support his shutdown

Shutdown fever has officially hit Washington. As Congress struggles to come to an agreement to get the government back to work, Capitol Hill is awash in indignant finger pointing, Twitter posturing and shutdown drink specials for furloughed employees.

Amidst all the breathless reporting and hyperbole, what’s real and what’s fake news is getting harder to distinguish. Here’s a look at what’s actually happening.

Shutdown myth #1: There was a bipartisan deal. Reporters, pundits and even senators have claimed that President TrumpDonald John TrumpConservatives express concern over House GOP immigration bill Poll: McSally holds 14-point lead in Arizona GOP Senate primary Trump defends Nielsen amid criticism over family separations MORE “rejected” a bipartisan deal to address recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, leading to the shutdown.

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It’s true that on the Wednesday prior to the shutdown, a group of senators met with the president to discuss a left-of-center immigration proposal largely put together by Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOvernight Health Care — Presented by the Association of American Medical Colleges — Trump officials move to expand non-ObamaCare health plans | 'Zero tolerance' policy stirs fears in health community | New ObamaCare repeal plan McCain, Coons: Trump should withdraw controversial refugee nominee GOP senators drafting legislation to keep immigrant families together MORE (R-S.C.) and Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinLive coverage: FBI chief, Justice IG testify on critical report Hugh Hewitt to Trump: 'It is 100 percent wrong to separate border-crossing families' Opioid treatment plans must include a trauma-informed approach MORE (D-Ill.).

 

However, this description leaves out a key detail. There isn’t actually a bill to discuss. The Graham-Durbin proposal would make fundamental changes to the U.S. immigration system, but its sponsors haven’t even bothered to write down a word of it.

How is anyone supposed to agree to a proposal of that magnitude without being able to review it, first? Moreover, Democrats continue to demand that a DACA fix be immediately added to the funding bill currently under dispute. But, as of yet, such a fix has yet to actually materialize. It seems self-evident, but maybe some Democrats don’t realize this: Congress can’t pass a bill that doesn’t actually exist.

Furthermore, to characterize this deal as one with a broad base of support that would pass immediately if just brought to the floor is erroneous. The bill’s “bipartisan support” is largely among senators who agree only with themselves. Graham-Durbin faces strong opposition by key members of the Senate, and Republican leadership is reportedly opposed to the bill. President Trump will not sign it. Perhaps most importantly, the proposal is a nonstarter for the House. 

Without a bill, and without the institutional support necessary to guarantee passage, Graham-Durbin is more of an unnecessary distraction than anything resembling a solution. 

Shutdown myth #2: GOP controls the government so they should be able to keep it open! This is perhaps the most pervasive shutdown myth, one arising from widespread confusion about how the Senate actually works.

While the House is able to pass bills with simple majorities, the Senate can only do so with 60 votes. Senate Republicans have only a 51-vote majority. That means, in order to pass this funding a bill, Democrat votes are required. (For a more in-depth discussion of this process, see here.)

Democrats found themselves in a similar situation in 2013, when they had a majority in the Senate, but Republicans were still able to foment a shutdown.

As in 2013 and with every government shutdown, one party cannot reopen the government. For that to happen, Democrats will have to stop filibustering, and both parties will have to agree.

Shutdown myth #3: So, this shutdown is just like 2013, right? Not exactly. Similarities exist, certainly, but some critical differences make this 2018 shutdown unique. In 2013, the government shut down over Republican efforts to repeal ObamaCare, a priority that nearly all Republicans supported, but no Democrats did. This time around, the major issue driving the shutdown is DACA, a policy issue that both parties have agreed needs to be addressed.

In fact, the president has agreed to sign a bill containing a DACA fix, in exchange for key priorities. Congressional Republicans largely support the president’s plan, and are willing to vote for it. Congressional Republicans have offered to work with Democrats on DACA, and there is broad agreement that the issue must be addressed. Moreover, DACA doesn’t expire until mid-March, removing the urgency to address this question on a funding bill in January.

So why are the Democrats shutting down the government, exactly? Even they don’t seem quite certain of their reasoning.

Shutdown myth #4: Schumer offered Trump funding for the wall. A wall along the southern border with Mexico has long been a priority for President Trump, and anathema to Democrats. However, after a recent discussion between President Trump and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Schumer said he “put the border wall on the table” for negotiation. He then claimed that even that wasn’t enough to get Trump to make a deal.

As with so many things in Washington, there’s more to that story. According to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyConsumer watchdog agency needs to get back to doing its job The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Defiant Trump meets with House GOP amid border blowback Trump plan to claw back billion in spending in peril MORE, what Schumer actually offered was authorization for a wall — a much different prospect than promising one will be built. Authorizations simply put permissions into public law; they do not provide for the funding necessary to see them through.

Schumer should know this better than anyone. In 2006, Schumer himself voted to authorize a 700-mile-long wall along the southern border. Years later, that project has still never been fully funded.

If Democrats are going to claim the mantle of sane negotiators, perhaps they should start with some genuinely meaningful offers.

Rachel Bovard (@RachelBovard) is the senior director of policy for The Conservative Partnership, a nonprofit group headed by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint (R) aimed at promoting limited government.