Congress and Trump hit a wall

Both par­ties have re­fused to budge over pay­ment for a wall, as state in­sti­tu­tions come to a stand­still

Financial Mail - - BETWEEN THE CHAINS - Tim Co­hen

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump fan­cies him­self a great deal­maker in the sense that he “wins” for his “team”. That abil­ity is be­ing tested to the max in the cur­rent par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down in the US and the re­sult, what­ever it is, will likely set the tone for the re­main­ing years of his pres­i­dency — and not just lo­cally.

Mean­while, a lot of peo­ple will get hurt. In the stand­off be­tween Trump and the Demo­crat-con­trolled House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, about 800,000 gov­ern­ment work­ers are about to miss their first monthly pay cheque; about 400,000 are seen as “es­sen­tial” and are ex­pected to work with­out pay. Ev­ery­thing from re­tire­ment ap­pli­ca­tions to drug test­ing is on hold as the shut­down en­ters its third week.

The core of the prob­lem is that Trump has de­manded that the US gov­ern­ment fund the south­ern bor­der wall he promised dur­ing his elec­tion cam­paign and the Demo­cratic Party is re­fus­ing to do so. Both sides clearly sense this is a piv­otal mo­ment, and fail­ing could set a prece­dent.

Both are there­fore try­ing to set the de­bate in a way that ad­van­tages them. The re­sult is that some parts of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment have been funded and oth­ers not.

Trump’s ne­go­ti­at­ing tac­tics come di­rectly out of the poker play­ers’ hand­book. First, vac­il­late wildly to keep your op­po­nents off bal­ance. Sec­ond, try to make them be­lieve you are crazy enough to do the un­think­able. And, third, taunt or flat­ter them to tempt them into act­ing ir­ra­tionally.

How will it end? Trump has some great ad­van­tages: the mega­phonic power of the pres­i­den­tial of­fice; a di­rect, un­medi­ated link with the elec­torate through so­cial me­dia, which al­lows him to shape the de­bate; and the rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing an un­hinged mav­er­ick, which makes him a dif­fi­cult ne­go­ti­at­ing ad­ver­sary.

But he also has sev­eral dis­ad­van­tages, most im­por­tant of which is that the Repub­li­can Party no longer holds power in both houses of Congress.

There is a pos­si­ble com­pro­mise: most Democrats are not in favour of open bor­ders, so in­creas­ing fund­ing for bor­der con­trol is not anath­ema to them, par­tic­u­larly if it were paired with a deal for mi­grants and asy­lum seek­ers.

The ques­tion for both par­ties is whether that would be seen as a climb-down or a com­pro­mise.

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