Two weeks ago Congress passed a very short-term spending bill to end a three-day government shutdown. The extension was supposed to give members time to craft a compromise to immigration reform and budget caps that would allow the passage of a measure to fund the government for a longer term.
The extension expires at midnight Thursday, and Congress is no closer to an agreement than it was two weeks ago.
Perhaps the new deadline will focus the attention of members.
But that seems unlikely, and already the talk has turned to yet another continuing resolution, this one that would fuel Washington’s spending machine until March 23, when the scramble to avert a closure will begin anew.
This would all be tolerable if progress were being made toward shaking away from the hardliners from both parties to enable more reasonable Congress members to forge bipartisan compromises.
Some members have been trying to get there. Thirty senators have formed a bipartisan “Common Sense Coalition” to find a consensus on immigration. And two slimmer immigration proposals being crafted by John McCain, R-Arizona, and Chris Coons, D-Delaware, in the Senate and Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Pete Aguilar, D-California, are in the embryonic stages.
But to think that an immigration compromise will emerge in the next day is nuts.
Instead, Congress should leave off immigration from the shutdown showdown and focus instead on the other obstacle to a longer term spending agreement: budget caps.
To move in that direction, the Trump administration would need to extend Obama-era protections for the DACA immigrants who face deportation beginning in March while the spending plan is being negotiated.
With immigration off the table, Congress can deal solely with spending.
Republicans want more money for defense. Democrats are withholding their support of military spending hikes until they get a dollar-for-dollar boost in domestic programs.
That would be a bad deal for taxpayers. Using these shutdown deadlines to continuously boost across-the-board spending only piles on to the deficit. Such transactional budgeting doesn’t lend itself to prioritizing spending and reviewing programs for their effectiveness.
Still, Republicans will likely have to offer some additional domestic spending to get the military dollars they seek.
Once the spending caps are set, the work can begin on a plan to fund the government through September, which would be just a few weeks shy of the November election, tying that government shutdown deadline tightly to the fight for control of Congress.
This is the new normal in Washington, and it looks nothing like regular order governing.