Letter-Writing Wednesday: Hold the Line

Letter-Writing Wednesday: Hold the Line January 24, 2018


[I sent a copy of this letter to Senators Schumer and Gillibrand.]

Dear Senator:

I’m writing to thank you for holding the line on the government shutdown. This was an object lesson in how progressives can win: by having the courage to resist a deeply unpopular president and a congressional majority whose agenda is despised by a majority of Americans.

We didn’t get everything we wanted, but by any reasonable measure, this vote was a win. We reopened the federal government; secured children’s health care funding for years to come, despite a Republican majority that’s either indifferent or actively hostile to it; and gave up none of our leverage if Mitch McConnell turns out to have been lying about his promise to hold a vote on protecting the Dreamers.

I reject the calls of purity-minded progressives who wanted to keep the government closed indefinitely until we got everything we wanted. The last shutdown, forced by Republicans in a failed attempt to destroy Obamacare, ought to be a cautionary tale in how this brand of obstructionism can damage a political party. That’s all the more true for us.

The Democrats ought to be the party of good government. We should want a government that’s competent, responsive and efficient, and as a precondition for all of those qualities, it has to be open for business. A government that’s nonfunctional can’t serve anyone’s needs, whether it’s protecting the environment, enforcing workers’ rights, or safeguarding the national defense (and we shouldn’t forget that government employees have bills to pay too).

The Republicans are the party of chaos and obstructionism. Their ideology is to force the government to be inept and ineffective so that people will come to hate it. A protracted shutdown would have played into their hands, not ours.

Besides, if they’d grown tired of being blamed for a shutdown, they could have abolished the filibuster at any time, reopened the government and reshaped it in their image, and left Democrats with no bargaining power at all. By avoiding this outcome, we managed to wring at least one important concession from a hostile congressional majority, without losing anything in exchange. That may well have been the best outcome we had any right to hope for.

Make no mistake, I’m not suggesting Democrats should give up the fight for the Dreamers. On the contrary, we should make them our chief focus in the coming months. It’s both a policy priority and a moral imperative to protect these Americans, who came forward in the trust that their country would do right by them. Even with a white supremacist president, this is a battle that can and must be won. As the midterms approach, we have to keep up the pressure. Please fight on!

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