Budget buffet, with Democrats on the menu

Last week’s column, in which I suggested that Democrats play hardball and not bail out the Republican majorities in Congress by providing them the necessary votes to keep the federal government operating past Friday, got some readers upset.

The gist of their criticism was that it was irresponsible of me to suggest that Democrats place politics ahead of keeping the government running. One prominent Republican took to Facebook to call the column “over the top hateful” and urge readers to cancel subscriptions.

The good news was that I was trending on Facebook.

I have to admit, it’s a little tough to hear Republicans decry a suggested strategy of non-cooperation given that was the Republican game plan in Washington as soon as President Obama raised his right hand and took the oath of office. It has served the party well politically, given that it controls the House, Senate and presidency.

Which was my other point. With that power, Republicans don’t need Democratic votes, except to allow some Republicans — and we’re talking mainly the Freedom Caucus in the House — to vote against the appropriation because they rarely vote for any spending bills. With the help of Democratic votes, those Republicans can keep telling voters they are for tax cuts and against government spending. And they will be able to do this without having to suffer the political damage of a government shutdown, allowing them to keep beating Democrats.

So I am not in favor of shutting down the government, it just bothers me to see one party get played so consistently by the other. I have a soft spot for helpless creatures, which describes the Democrats in recent national elections.

But have no fear, a spending bill won approval on Thursday, the day before the government was to run out of money. It keeps things going until Dec. 22. Seriously.

And unlike bad old me, Democrats played nice, particularly in the Senate, where the 81-15 approval included 42 Republicans and 38 Democrats in favor, including Connecticut’s Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy.

Democrats on the House side, who actually have to live with the Freedom Caucus, were feeling less charitable. The temporary spending bill passed there 235-193, with only 14 Democrats in favor. All five Democratic congressmen from Connecticut voted no.

In the interest of working out a deal to pass a genuine appropriations bill lasting more than two weeks, President Trump sat down Thursday with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for a little pre-holiday mingling.

I think the Democrats were on the menu.

The Democrats have a few modest goals in return for playing nice and giving the Republicans the votes they need to allow some GOP members to dodge accountability. They want to protect the “Dreamers” from deportation — those young people who were brought to the country illegally as children by their parents and who have lost the protections provided them during the Obama years. The Democratic leaders want to see spending on domestic programs keep pace with the Pentagon, including health insurance for low-income kids.

Politico reports that Trump’s priorities are different. He wants to keep any relief for Dreamers out of the budget deal, increase defense spending without boosting non-defense funding, and get Democrats to help fund his border wall. Freedom Caucus members, meanwhile, have informed Ryan they are in no mood to give into liberal demands.

Explain to me again why Democrats should play nice and cooperate on getting an appropriations bill passed?

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

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