There is a really old cliché in movies where a timer is ticking down the seconds towards zero. Once the backwards ticking clock hits zero, some catastrophe happens – like a bomb going off. It’s an artificial way to build up tension. Long ago, daily news networks figured out they could use the same gimmick to generate suspense and increase viewership. Every day, I see the CNBC and CNN countdowns used on matters large (“countdown to election results”) and small (“countdown to the market close”), often in red text to imply danger.
This sort of time brinkmanship is perfectly fine in movies, but last week in Washington was marked with two similar deadlines that were wholly unnecessary and potentially damaging.
For starters, the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency passed largely without incident or substantive changes in policy. President Trump called the 100-days standard “ridiculous”, and he’s right. Still, it makes for good theatre, and that’s supposed to be one of his strong suits. For better or worse, the new administration can focus on the long, stamina draining grind of working with Congress and leveraging their political capital to establish policy.
Speaking of Congress, the second deadline was the budget that passed after precarious negotiations which avoided poison pills in the deal regarding the border wall and healthcare funding. Congress set up a reasonable budget agreement – funding the government until September – and put it in place without the uncertainty of a partial government shutdown or a stop-gap, week-by-week extension. The room to maneuver gives Congress the power to thoughtfully consider proposals without undue time-pressure.
We should be grateful that the major players can work without an artificial deadline hanging over their heads. Getting policy right is more important than getting it done quickly.