It’s not every day that Greek mythology can explain legislative conundrums in Washington, D.C.
Lawmakers are trying to forge a DACA compromise, alter the nation’s immigration system, build a border wall, author an agreement on defense spending and avert a government shutdown – all by next Friday.
This requires some serious parliamentary navigation.
Go too far on DACA and that upsets one set of lawmakers. Too far on immigration and that inflames another group. Not enough for defense, and other lawmakers go ballistic.
Then the government shuts down.
“It’s like Scylla and Charybdis,” quipped Rep. Francis Rooney R-Fla., after a meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Wednesday.
To the uninitiated, Scylla and Charybdis (pronounced SILL-uh and kuh-RIBB-duss) were mythological “sea monsters” in the Strait of Messina off the Italian coast. Adroit sea captains had to sail between Scylla and Charybdis to traverse the strait. Travel too close to Scylla to avoid Charybdis and you may crash into jagged rocks. Veer toward Charybdis to dodge Scylla and a cyclonic whirlpool may devour your vessel.
For the record, when Odysseus set sail, he steered toward Scylla. Odysseus thought it was better to lose a few sailors on the craggy shoals compared to sinking the entire ship in the whirlpool.
Lawmakers now stare at a similar quandary. If conservatives get too close to DACA … or if liberal Democrats float too close to defense spending … danger awaits.
And out there, somewhere, lurks the most malevolent creature of them all: the government shutdown.
That could be the consequence next week if Congress swerves too close to either hazard.
President Trump invited a host of bipartisan, bicameral lawmakers to the White House Tuesday for an extraordinary session addressing DACA, immigration policy and border security.
It was as though everything changed.
And yet, nothing really did.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., praised the tone of the White House huddle. Yet shortly after the conclave, the New York Democrat reminded reporters that the “devil’s in the details.”
House Republicans, led by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., rolled out a GOP immigration reform/border security measure hours later.
“I think it is a good bill,” said Paul Ryan. “I think we will be able to put together a DACA compromise that has a majority support from our party.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., promptly trashed the plan.
“Do you think it is a vehicle if [Ryan] gets half of his caucus? Do you think Democrats are going to vote for that bill? That is completely out of the question,” declared Pelosi.
The federal government is funded through Jan. 19. Schumer insists lawmakers work out a DACA solution and attach it to a spending bill by next Friday to fund government operations.
“It must go in a must-pass bill and the only must-pass bill that we see coming down the road between now and March 5 is this [stopgap measure]. So we continue to believe, insist, that it must be in this bill,” said Schumer.
It’s a tall order to sort out border security and immigration policy by next week. Democrats may not help Republicans fund the government if there’s no DACA plan. Republicans could need Democratic votes to avert a shutdown. Congress has punted on a comprehensive spending plan three times since September. Rank-and-file Republicans are beside themselves when it comes to doing yet another short-term spending bill. Many Republicans could abandon the leadership and vote no.
“We spend money like it’s West Virginia ditch water,” groused Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., about the lack of a budget accord.
It’s unclear if West Virginia lawmakers appreciate Kennedy’s assessment of the Mountain State’s commodities.
Kennedy muses that some lawmakers could be “purveyors of perfection” demanding a bill which checks all boxes simultaneously. But even the Louisiana Republican has his own demands.
“I’ll vote to shut government down if they want to throw in a bunch of nonsense in the bill,” said Kennedy.
Kennedy believes attaching a DACA agreement constitutes “nonsense.”
Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., said in December he wouldn’t help the Republican leadership approve any more emergency spending bills without a permanent DACA fix.
“A lot of members in leadership just want to postpone the inevitable,” said Curbelo.
Then there’s the military spending issue.
Defense hawks implore congressional leaders to bolster defense spending. Defense advocates are pushing to lift dollar caps which limit the Pentagon budget.
“I don’t think we can pass a [short-term] bill without a deal on the [defense] caps,” predicted House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.
Democrats demand “parity.” If Republicans remove the curbs on defense, then Democrats argue Congress should eliminate spending strictures on non-defense programs, too.
This is complex.
Still, everything boils down to DACA. Three factors are at work.
What can Trump accept?
How far can congressional Republicans bend on DACA?
How far can Democrats bend on immigration and a border wall?
Pelosi suggests Democrats won’t budge from their demands just to fund the government next week.
“We have to have a deal in hand,” said Pelosi.
And Republicans are just as locked in as Pelosi.
“DACA amnesty will cost American taxpayers far more than it will cost to build a wall,” augured Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, one of the most ardent foes of a compromise for DREAMers.
One can see where just enough votes would slip away to fund the government if there isn’t an agreement on DACA to enlist Democratic votes … and there isn’t an agreement to enlist defense hawks … and there isn’t an agreement to enlist border security proponents like King.
Someone will have to sail closer to either Scylla or Charybdis. Either choice is a bad one. And either they’ll lose a few sailors if they drift closer to Scylla or endanger the entire mission by steering toward Charybdis.
Capitol Attitude is a weekly column written by members of the Fox News Capitol Hill team. Their articles take you inside the halls of Congress, and cover the spectrum of policy issues being introduced, debated and voted on there.