Dream Act v Wall

As Congress returns from its summer recess and prepares to pass a budget for the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, a review of 2017 suggests that there has been no change from the longstanding grip of dysfunction and polarization. If anything, the only relative change in our political and governmental worlds since President Trump took office is the unfortunate escalation of rhetoric and violence emanating from both ends of the political spectrum.

Between now and Sept. 30, the script appears both predictable and unlikely to change. There will be theatrics surrounding the president’s threat to shut down the government and all sides will posture around the debt ceiling and the budget before once again kicking the proverbial can down the road. It is possible that the president will precipitate a brief shut-down and then declare victory upon realizing some marginal funding advances relative to construction of his wall.

Regardless, as they look to the 2018 elections, the vast majority of Congress will take comfort that they will be favored to retain their seats. Not unlike 2016, I suspect that well in excess of 90 percent of the members of Congress who defend their seats in the general election will return to office. None of the continued dysfunction will have changed the political calculus. Of course, Democrats will continue to plot victories based on the anti-Trump messaging they plan to unleash in the campaign season and Republican candidates will continue to walk a tightrope between when to align with the president and when to take their shots to demonstrate their independence.

It should be noted that Congress managed to pass bi-partisan legislation sanctioning Russia for interfering in our elections, sending a strong message that we will not tolerate any foreign tampering with our democratic process. In reality, they came together to pass the bill because all of the noise around Russia and the pending Mueller investigation will continue through the 2018 elections. Of all the myriad problems before them, this was their one potential political vulnerability. Members of Congress could not take the chance of being attacked by an opponent over failure to pass anti-Russia legislation.

Fortunately, and I say this with deep regret given the hardship potentially created for millions of people, there is a path to a shifting paradigm. The trigger will be the president’s failure to extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA is the program President Obama created by executive action to give just short of one million undocumented immigrants brought to our country as children a reprieve from deportation. President Trump temporarily renewed the program in June. However, faced with a September deadline to avoid litigation over the bounds of executive authority, he granted a 6-month reprieve while putting the ultimate decision to Congress.

Those affected and their extended family and friends can begin an important journey to help end the cycle of dysfunction and polarization. They, perhaps in tandem with the Sanders minions, can organize and send a very strong message to establishment Democrats, letting it be known they have disappointed them for the last time and they will no longer support their candidates until the Dream Act is passed. And, they need to assert their viewpoint with the same ferocity with which many in this cohort have voiced dissatisfaction with the president.

Why attack the Democrats? Because they are capable of squandering an opportunity to strike a deal with the “Deal” President and, in doing so, will have demonstrated once again that their inaction speaks much louder than their words. The president and his supporters desperately want a wall and the Democrats, allegedly, desperately want the Dream Act. It is the clearest example of a political horse trade and the type of bartering and compromise that used to prevail in Congress. Given his loud and persistent rhetoric of late regarding the wall and his stated willingness to shut down the government if he doesn’t get his way, President Trump will risk damage to his reputation as a deal-maker if the Democrats are equally loud and persistent in offering a trade for the Dream Act.

On the other side of the equation, the 30+ percent of the population that remains locked at the hip with the president needs to send a similar message. No matter how much the president spins the outcome of the budget, gaining a few billion dollars for the wall is not what he promised during the campaign or since. Building the wall will have been on hold for 9 months and, with insufficient funding, will remain on the drawing table for the foreseeable future.

Similar to the messaging directed at Democrats, Trump supporters need to tell Republicans that they too are fed up and will no longer support Republican candidates until there is adequate funding for the wall and other security measures they deem necessary to thwart terrorism and/or protect jobs.

If one side of the polarized electorate gets into the game and the message is loud and consistent, there can be significant movement. If both sides get in the game, the first meaningful steps will have been taken on the way back to a functioning government in DC.

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