Feehery: Current shutdown impasse is a fight over peanuts

Feehery: Current shutdown impasse is a fight over peanuts

On Jan. 7, 1996, the snow fell down in sheets as I drove myself back from the NBC studios.

My boss at the time, Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas), had just completed a contentious interview with Tim Russert on Meet the Press, and while I was a little bit concerned about the blowback from the interview, I was more concerned about the blowing snow buffeting my Mazda 323.

Small cars like that were not built for huge snowstorms.

It was 22 years ago when Washington was hit by the twin crises of a government shut-down and the biggest blizzard to hit the nation’s capital in decades.

ADVERTISEMENT

Forty-six inches would eventually fall in a couple days, making the roads impassable and making it impossible for me to get to work as the whip’s communications director.

The snowstorm that Washington is currently digging out of is comparably much smaller, but so are the stakes when it comes to the shutdown.

Back in 1996, House Republicans were attempting to balance the budget in seven years, enact pro-growth tax policies, reform welfare and limit the future growth of Medicare.

We were able to force Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThorny part of obstruction of justice is proving intent, that's a job for Congress 20 years after Columbine: What has changed? Impeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent MORE to come up with his balanced budget plan (not an insignificant victory), but the biggest point of contention was a seemingly trivial difference of opinion.  Who would be the official scorekeeper, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) or the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)?

Try messaging that to the American people.

We would later learn that Mr. Clinton, home alone in the White House, was getting to know Monica Lewinsky much more intimately as he was holding firm on his demands to basically do nothing that the Republicans really wanted.

While the CBO/OMB fight might seem inconsequential to the naked eye, in reality it masked about a $100 billion gulf between the two sides.

ADVERTISEMENT
That makes the $5 billion that separate House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiSenate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller End of Mueller shifts focus to existing probes Democrats renew attacks on Trump attorney general MORE (D-Calif.) from Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpThorny part of obstruction of justice is proving intent, that's a job for Congress Obama condemns attacks in Sri Lanka as 'an attack on humanity' Schiff rips Conway's 'display of alternative facts' on Russian election interference MORE seem petty.

And it seems petty because it is petty.

Five billion dollars is a rounding error in the context of the tens of trillions of dollars that filter in and out of the federal treasury every year.

Pelosi doesn’t want to give Trump his money for a wall, or any money for a wall, because she doesn’t want to give the president a political victory.

She feels confident in her non-negotiating position because she has both the polls and the media on her side.

Refusing to budge on price works when you are buying a car but works less well when it comes to a full-functioning democracy.

Her “just say no” attitude is undoubtedly popular with her increasingly socialist-leaning caucus, but you have to wonder how Democrats outside the Beltway really feel about it.

After all, union workers will likely be the ones building the wall with union-produced steel. And most of the federal workers who are idled by Pelosi’s intransigence are the part of the Democratic coalition who would prefer a paycheck to an unpaid vacation.

As this shutdown drags on, one of the questions that keeps coming to my mind:  Why do so many of these federal workers rely on appropriated funds to do their jobs?

Couldn’t TSA agents be funded by the huge airline taxes that we pay every time we buy a ticket? Couldn’t user fees pay for the food inspections or the craft brew licenses?

But I digress.

The point here is that the longer this shutdown goes on, the more people are going to start questioning the motivations on both sides.

Sure, the president is controversial and somewhat volatile and certainly uncontrollable when it comes to Twitter.

But is five billion really that much to ask for increased border security in the context of a multitrillion-dollar budget?

Unlike the OMB/CBO fight, border security actually means something to the average American. It’s a far easier message to communicate.

Even in a snowstorm.

Feehery is a partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former Speaker Dennis HastertJohn (Dennis) Dennis HastertFeehery: Trump lays groundwork for immigration two-step Feehery: The Trump health care pivot Bottom Line MORE (R-Ill.), as communications director to former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) when he was majority whip and as a speech writer to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).