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The most pressing news story over the past couple weeks has been the government shutdown and its evolution from a looming possibility, to its political inevitability, followed by the grinding gridlock and its hastily crafted end. The bill to end the government shut down, signed by President Trump in Monday’s waning hours will fund the government until Feb. 8 – a guarantee of government operations for three weeks. Many commentators have foreseen the possibility of another government shutdown in February.
The government shutdown circa 2018 started at midnight (EST) Jan. 20 and lasted roughly three full days. The political friction causing the shutdown stems from the disagreement on how to handle the issue of DACA recipients and how to best reform immigration as a whole. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is an Obama-era policy (authorized by executive order) that grants a protected legal status, such as permission to work and protection against deportation, to people brought to the U.S. illegally as children. In September 2017, President Trump announced his intention to end the program and gave Congress a six-month window to create a legislative fix. President Trump’s argument is that DACA was an unlawful act by the Executive Branch. Since then, the DACA battle has been fought primarily in the courts, while gaining little traction in Congress.
Since September, very little headway has been made on DACA and immigration reform. Health care reform and tax reform have been the priorities of Congress, the latter having been successfully codified as law in late-December. The lackluster progress on immigration has frustrated Congressional Democrats, and the lackluster progress for funding for a border wall has frustrated the Trump administration. This conflict has boiled for several months, as the March 2018 deadline for DACA comes closer. The 2018 federal budget was not passed with the usual appropriation package, leading to several patchwork funding packages that have to be voted on every couple of weeks. Bipartisan funding agreements have helped prevent two possible government shutdowns last December, on Dec. 8 and Dec. 22, respectively. However, when the Jan. 19 funding deadline approached, it failed to pass the Senate, leading to the government shutdown; the House passed a resolution to fund the government, but the Senate, which requires a 60-vote threshold to pass most legislation, could not pass it as the Republicans have control with a 51-seat majority (out of 100).
The game of political finger-pointing soon resulted. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan criticized Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Minority Leader of Democrats in the Senate, accusing him of hypocrisy. Speaker Ryan quoted Sen. Schumer from the 2013 government shutdown, referring to this year’s shutdown as “utter madness,” saying that “Senate Democrats refuse to fund the government unless we [Republicans] agree to their demands [DACA] on something entirely unrelated.” He also quoted Sen. Schumer from 2013, referring to that year’s shutdown: ‘no matter how strongly one feels about an issue, you shouldn’t hold millions of people hostage.’
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has blamed Republicans for the shutdown, saying “the Republicans in Congress plunged headfirst into the Trump shut down.” He also compared Republican Congressional leaders and the Trump administration to Abbott and Costello, and the comedy duos famous “Who’s on First?” routine. “The Congressional leaders tell me to negotiate with President Trump; President Trump tells me to figure it out with Republican leaders,” said Schumer.
Sen. Schumer also alluded to an early January speech President Trump gave on immigration, and the four priorities he listed: protect the Dreamers, secure the border, end “Chain migration” and end the Diversity Visa Lottery. He accused the president of reneging on these priorities when congress met those agreements because “the hard right attacked again.”
Other issues behind the government shutdown include funding for the border wall that President Trump campaigned on, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), neither of which were funded in the 2018 budget. These two issues have compounded the divide between Republicans and Democrats, respectively.
The government is for now funded but the issues that resulted in the shutdown remain. DACA recipients have no permanent solution and their status is precarious, at best. The border wall has no funding, which angers the president. The Jan. 22 funding resolution has only put a band-aid on the dysfunction in Washington D.C. and the American people are being punished as a result. Low-income families and their children, immigrants and military servicemembers, to name a few affected groups, are living with profound uncertainty. The short turnaround on Feb. 8 only delays the gridlock, reigniting a once popular phrase: kicking the can down the road.