It was encouraging to read and hear the comments from some members of the West Virginia Congressional delegation after President Trump Saturday offered a compromise on the border wall dispute to try to end the partial government shutdown.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said, “I’m hopeful the President’s statement tonight will allow us to immediately reopen government, put West Virginians back to work and start long-term immigration reform.”

Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito said, “As I’ve said from the beginning, that’s the kind of compromise we need—one that gets federal employees back to work, ensures our government is working at full capacity and secures our borders.”

Unfortunately, not everyone is as willing as Manchin and Capito to strike a deal.   Democratic leaders rejected Tump’s offer even before he made it. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “It’s very hard to negotiate when a gun is held to your head.” While on the right, conservative columnist Ann Coulter decried Trump’s proposal to give temporary protections to people who came to this country illegally as children as “amnesty.”

As usual, there is plenty of hyperbole to go around.  The posturing wouldn’t be so bad if actual negotiations were ongoing. We’ve all heard dramatic rhetoric from both sides in labor and contract disputes, only to have them later emerge from a marathon negotiating session with a deal.

The two sides always come to agreement because each has an interest in settling the dispute—workers want to get a pay check and the employer wants to resume production.  In this current dispute, however, the gain or loss has to do with a political advantage (or disadvantage).

Apparently, the next step in Washington will be for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring Trump’s offer to the floor to see if he can get 60 votes.  He’ll need people like Manchin to get on board otherwise the plan is doomed.

Either way, a vote may at least move the ball and get real discussions going again.

Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg summarized the political clash this way: “For those who see Donald Trump as the hero of the story, what really matters is that he triumphs. For those who see him as the villain, what really matters is that he be defeated.”

Unfortunately, if those are the terms then this is a zero-sum game—for one side to win, the other side must lose.  The high stakes make the two sides even more intractable. I suspect if the 800,000 federal employees who are not getting paid had a seat at the table this dispute would have already been settled, but they are caught in this stubborn Washington netherworld.

Senators like Manchin and Capito get it. They understand that without compromise government functions like a crazed pendulum, swinging wildly from one side to the other depending upon who has the political leverage at the moment.

Without some bipartisan buy in on a deal to reopen government and secure the border, we will end up with a winner and loser, which will only guarantee another winner-take-all battle when the next controversial issue arises.

 

 

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