Government shutdowns sure look like they will become the norm as we continue into our hyper-partisan future. The core of this fight is that Congress will not do its job. A perfect example of the larger issue embodied in this potential shutdown is the net neutrality fiasco. One of our three branches of government simply refuses to pass legislation needed to keep the country running, and so we run up against these fights damn near every year. If Congress passed legislation to regulate the internet as opposed to its present half-baked plan to regulate it like phone lines, we wouldn’t have these fights with the FCC over net neutrality. We’re in a similar spot with the programs holding up the funding of the government. Here is where we stand just hours away from a government shutdown.
What Do Democrats Want?
The GOP is doing their best to pin this potential shutdown on the minority party in Congress, but the truth of the matter is that they control all three branches of government and could end this fiasco whenever they wanted to. If they wanted to keep the government open, they could do it. The central issue is that in order to avert a government shutdown, a bill funding the government must be passed, and that bill is subject to a filibuster (meaning they need 60 votes for it to pass). Republicans have 51 members in the Senate, meaning that they need to find at least nine more Democratic votes to pass a resolution.
Democrats are threatening a filibuster over two programs: DACA and CHIP. DACA is the deferred action for childhood arrivals program, which allows children who were brought here as undocumented immigrants to apply for citizenship. There is a chance that DACA is unconstitutional, but it only exists because President Obama wanted to help immigrants who technically committed a crime through no fault of their own, and found a middle ground in DACA that Congress refused to address. If Congress passed a long-term plan to deal with people who were brought here as undocumented immigrants through no fault of their own, DACA would not be a central fight in this shutdown battle.
The other program holding this bill up is CHIP, and this is where the Republicans get really cynical, as there is no reasonable rationale behind it not getting funded. Paste’s Shane Ryan wrote a good explainer on this yesterday:
Remember last summer when Republicans in Congress tried three different ways to pass an Obamacare repeal that would take millions off health insurance? Remember how they failed, but then kind of succeeded in the tax bill when they managed to repeal the individual mandate? And remember how funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that covers nine million kids ran out about 100 days ago, mostly because Republicans couldn’t decide exactly how they wanted to use it as a bargaining chip?
Well, now they care—or are pretending to care. And the reason is that House Republicans just attached a six-year CHIP extension plan to their otherwise awful short-term stopgap spending bill that’s meant to prevent a government shutdown. And the brilliant part about the tactic? If Democrats don’t like the spending bill, which they really don’t, Republicans can use the CHIP extension to say “why do you hate kids?”
The GOP could have passed a bill to give health care to nine million kids at any point they wanted, but instead, they held these poor kids hostage in order to force the Democrats to choose between helping the DACA kids or the CHIP kids. If you’ve read Paste before, you know that we’re the farthest thing from being Democratic shills there is on the left, so trust us when we say that the Democrats are truly threatening to make good on the GOP’s strong-arm tactics to shut down the government in order to help children.
What Do Republicans Want?
A political victory. That’s all they ever want. That and tax cuts for their donors. By intentionally not funding CHIP and holding it hostage for this very moment, Congressional Republicans have proven that they don’t care one iota about bettering people’s lives. This is all a game to them, and they’re willing to kill children to win (call me hyperbolic all you want, but denying health care to poor kids isn’t far off from my hyperbole). The GOP only cares about their donors, so the human costs of their actions don’t even register unless it hurts them politically.
Republicans want to keep the government open because despite all their rhetoric, they know that the people controlling the government will get blamed for the government shutdown. But they don’t want to pass just any bill, they want a budgetary bill that reflects their priorities. That’s normal. Holding kids’ health care hostage to extract concessions for your priorities is not.
Republicans have said they will only put protections for DACA kids into the bill if the Dems agree to increased border security and other immigration measures. The problem that the GOP is running into is that Dems are not the only ones threatening to vote no on this bill. Lindsey Graham said he wants to use this opportunity to pass a new immigration plan (which includes coverage for DACA kids) and an increase in military spending (the White House has slammed Graham’s bipartisan plan).
Around noon today, Senator Graham said he is still not voting for the House’s stopgap bill. Senator Rand Paul has also said that he will not vote for the bill because it will increase the nation’s debt. Because the GOP is not a ruling party, and they simply oppose whatever liberals support, answering the question of “what does the GOP want?” is far more difficult than the Dems. The Dems’ demands basically comes down to two programs, the GOP is still stuck in an existential crisis. They want a political win, whatever that means.
What's Going to Happen?
The House passed a bill last night funding the government through February 16th, so if the Senate ratifies it as is (which isn't going to happen), we will avert a government shutdown. If the Senate does not pass this bill (or any other) by midnight tonight, the government will officially shut down. Just gauging by the rhetoric and reporting around this, it sure looks like the government will not be funded by midnight tonight.
Here’s how grim things looked in the Senate as the countdown continued toward a shutdown at midnight Friday: The chamber struggled to even schedule a vote to fund the government, let alone cobble together the votes to actually pass a bill.
Congress is so dysfunctional, Politico reported that they couldn’t even agree to adjourn last night.
For a few minutes late Thursday, it looked like the chamber couldn’t even agree to adjourn for the night after Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) objected to going to bed. Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) ducked onto the Senate floor, checking on whether he would vote to have to adjourn the chamber — a rare procedural step invoked only at moments of the most severe gridlock.
Past 10 p.m., McConnell finally secured an agreement to send senators home for the night and regroup. The episode did not foreshadow positive momentum for a deal to break the impasse.
“You realize I’m not a fan of this place, right?” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) after the late night theatrics. Asked if the episode felt like a shutdown was looming, Johnson said: “It feels like a charade.”
Bottom line: if the GOP agrees to a resolution that protects both the DACA and CHIP kids, the Democrats will come to the table to negotiate. Then it’s up to the GOP to find a resolution that works for both them and the Dems. Again: Republicans control the government. This is their show. About nine million kids are eligible for CHIP and almost two million are eligible for DACA, which means that this shutdown is being negotiated around the livelihood of about 11 million children (nearly 15% of all children in America).
No matter what happens—and a shutdown seems highly likely at this point—this is yet another marker in our broad societal decline. Republican politicians (except for Lindsey Graham and maybe a couple of his allies) would rather shut the entire government down than help kids in need. The fact that the GOP thinks they can extract a bigger political victory by blaming the Dems for a government shutdown, instead of funding CHIP (supported by 62% of the public) and DACA (73%) says all you need to know about this garbage political party that needs to be relegated to the dustbin of history.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.