2018 – Year of the “iDeal”?
2017 was the umpteenth consecutive year of disproportionate dysfunction and polarization in our political system. If anything, it was distinguished by heightened, attack rhetoric and a continued breakdown in civility. Yet, as we enter 2018, there is opportunity to at least temporarily regain communication and compromise over two compelling issues: immigration reform and infrastructure funding.
Whereas the Democrats passed their signature Obamacare legislation without participation nor votes from Republicans and whereas the Republicans have now passed their signature tax reform legislation without participation nor votes from Democrats, passing legislation related to either iTopic will require bipartisan support. There is no opportunity to further play procedural games to achieve passage.
The fringe elements of each party will undoubtedly remain polarized and use any such legislative efforts to further enrage their respective bases, especially in a year in which many Democrats see the wave approaching and in which many Republicans will be tempted to bet that it is still “the economy stupid” and all of the trends are running in their favor. Yet, at the risk of being Pollyannaish, immigration reform and infrastructure funding are compelling issues that lend themselves to classic horse-trading in the respect that each party has something to gain and each party has something to give.
Regardless who is in control of the government, neither party is capable of passing legislation on either topic without bi-partisan support. Further, President Trump relishes his ability to cut deals and has already demonstrated willingness to negotiate with Democrats.
Infrastructure funding is arguably easier to pass with bi-partisan support given that the needs are ubiquitous and most legislators still relish a chance to bring political pork back to their districts, especially in election years. Both parties will also be able to rally around claims that infrastructure legislation will create jobs, jobs and jobs.
At the same time, the fringe elements of each party are poised to sit out and continue to demagogue. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party is capable of seeing an infrastructure package as an opportunity to press their case that the evil 1% are unduly winners and will clearly see an opportunity to enrage the base around any effort to have the president’s border wall included in the package. Conversely, odds are that the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party will view infrastructure funding as a line-in-the-sand budget buster without commensurate cuts that will render any package DOA.
Given the potential for the fringe elements of the parties to press these polarized agendas, it remains to be seen if there can finally be a return to compromise that yields bi-partisan legislation on a compelling issue.
Immigration reform is the more fascinating issue given that it presents an opportunity for each party gain a major policy victory, albeit at the expense of difficult to swallow concessions. It has been quite a while since the battle lines were so clear and the equivalence of the necessary compromise so potentially balanced. Democrats are poised to win on all elements of the Dream Act while Republicans are poised to win on a significant portion of President Trump’s 70-point package.
At the same time, the fringe elements of each party are poised to sit out and continue to demagogue. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party has already signaled that the Dream Act is not an adequate trade for concessions on heightened security and monitoring, especially the wall, and that immigration reform needs to incorporate all persons currently in the country illegally, not just Dreamers. Further, they are convinced that the current mood of the public will allow them to attract sufficient Republican votes without the need for significant compromise. If not, failure to act can be blamed on Republicans; thereby adding more leverage for the expected Democratic wave in November.
The conservative wing of the Republican Party has already signaled that the Dream Act is not an adequate quid-pro quo for their reform agenda and emotions are easily inflamed by invoking the term “amnesty” at any time. Further, they believe that concessions to Democrats on immigration are kryptonite to the base and may result in diminished turnout.
Not unlike infrastructure, it remains to be seen if there can finally be a return to compromise on immigration reform that yields bi-partisan legislation on a compelling issue.
Can we dare to imagine a year in which both iDeals are passed?
Then again, we might just spend the entire year with increasing pressure for impeachment on one side and entitlement reform on the other while watching the system fall completely over the cliff.