Trump schools GOP Congress to play hardball

Something good is happening in Congress these days.

Instead of rolling over for Democrats and virtuously claiming they've "reached across the aisle," as they always have done, Republicans are now playing hardball.  They've maneuvered to put entitlements and swing state-sensitive tax cuts on the line as bargaining chips to avoid a government shutdown.  In doing this, they have just laid out a plan to beat the Democrats at their own game.

According to Wednesday's front-pager in the New York Times:

WASHINGTON – With little hope of an immigration agreement this week, Republicans in Congress are looking to head off a government shutdown this weekend by pairing another stopgap spending measure with long-term funding for the popular Children's Health Insurance Program, daring Democrats to vote no.

The bill would leave in limbo hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.  But Democrats would still be left with a difficult political decision: withhold their votes unless the plight of such immigrants, known as [DREAMers], is addressed and risk a government shutdown, or vote to keep the government open and fund the Children's Health Insurance Program [known as CHIP –ed.], which provides coverage for nearly nine million children.

Down farther in the story, the Times notes that CHIP isn't the only Democratic prize on the line.  The other bargaining chips are even more significant, which might be why the news was buried:

In the bill to be passed this week to avoid a shutdown, Republicans would also suspend a tax imposed by the Affordable Care Act on medical devices, as well as a tax on providers of health insurance.  In addition, it would delay the law's tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health coverage, known as the Cadillac tax.

Hmmm – medical device tax, the hot-button issue of turning-red Massachusetts, where large numbers of medical device makers are located.  And hmmm, again – scrapping the detested Cadillac insurance tax, a point of hurt in rust-belt union states carried by President Trump in 2016.

Can you say "put the squeeze on"?

If Democrats don't support those things in the stopgap funding bill, and instead cling to their lockstep support for DREAMers, allowing the entire government to shut down because of that, they can kiss their dreams of a 2018 "wave" election for themselves goodbye.

What we are seeing here is Republicans using their high ground – the economy – as a vantage point to shoot down the Democrats' efforts to shut down the government and then blame the Republicans, as they always do.

Do Democrats really want to face the 18 million parents whose nine million children use the CHIP program to explain that all that could come to an end because of the Democratic Party's higher priority of amnestying 800,000 DREAMers?  Do they really want to face the New England voters in the medical device industry, which has been singled out for punitive Obamacare taxes, or explain themselves to all the union workers set to pay massive Obamacare "Cadillac" taxes just for the "privilege" of having good health care insurance?

That's what the Republicans are forcing them to do.  Now they are being forced to choose between the foreign national DREAMers they support or the meat-and-potatoes voters in the critical voting districts.

Strangely, the Times reports that Republicans consider this the best of bad options, citing Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina.  It's possible he thinks they are putting too many chips on the table to secure the necessary Democratic votes for a continuation bill and won't have much left for the bigger funding bill that will come in November.  But what we are seeing from this side is a big squeeze on the Democrats and a new willingness to fight – and to deal, something that is President Trump's trademark.  There is plenty of time to come up with new bargaining chips to hold Democrats' feet to the fire in the coming February bill, without caving on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) DREAMers.  All the GOP has to do is look to the booming economy and its lingering sore spots for clues.  Democrats dismissed the need for a good economy during the Obama years, starving the country, and voters remember it.  With the passage of the GOP tax cut bill last December, with all its knock-on effects, Republicans own it.

With the high ground secured, they can continue to use it to not only to keep advancing the long neglected economy, but to keep the government funded.

Somehow, despite their squirmings and misgivings, Trump the fighter has taught them, too, to fight – and they're finally mastering the "Art of the Deal."

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