A federal government shutdown that has lasted nearly three days is on track to come to an end later Monday — and it’s set up another potential government funding fight in just two-and-a-half weeks, on February 8.
The bipartisan deal to end the shutdown is in large part a matter of kicking the can down the road. It doesn’t resolve the fate of Deferred Action Childhood Arrival program recipients, and it doesn’t fund the government through the rest of the year. As such, it’s a little early to say what the ultimate consequences of today’s deal will be.
Still, the beneficiaries of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, whose funding will be safe for the next six years, secured a long-term win. In the short-term at least, Democrats appear to be the political losers. The party is divided on whether the deal was a good idea or merely a cave to Republicans, with some in the latter camp feeling betrayed.
Winner: CHIP kids
The Children’s Health Insurance Program has spent the past 114 days without a long-term budget, an unprecedented funding crisis for a program that has typically enjoyed strong, bipartisan support. The uncertainty over CHIP’s future led one state to freeze enrollment briefly in late December — and others to send warnings to thousands of families stating their benefits may run out within weeks.
But now, CHIP’s funding crisis is finally over. The bill to keep the government open for the next two-and-a-half weeks also includes a six-year extension of CHIP’s budget. (Indeed, Republicans had offered this before the shutdown, and this time it was Democrats who wouldn’t accept it.) This means that states will no longer have to worry about how long their funding will last, and that 9 million kids who get covered through the program can finally rest easy.
Well, they didn’t lose. Yet.
Yes, Democrats caved, agreeing to reopen the government for another three weeks based on handshake assurances from Mitch McConnell for a vote on some sort of bill to address their status.
Yes, this is the third time that Democrats have insisted that DACA recipients’ fate be addressed as part of a must-pass bill, and then reneged. Perhaps most worrisomely, many Republicans who had spent the last several months claiming that of course they wanted to find a solution to help DREAMers — including President Trump and McConnell — spent the shutdown weekend escalating their rhetoric, attacking Democrats for trying to protect “illegal immigrants.”
Some Democrats are convinced the public promises from Mitch McConnell will give them leverage when the next funding deadline comes up on February 8. We don’t yet know how that will play out.
Republicans these last few months have professed that they want a deal to help DACA recipients just as much as Democrats do, but this weekend clarified the state of play on the Republican side. The shutdown exposed that some Republicans never wanted to make a deal on DREAMers in the first place, and any path forward will have to ignore them rather than trying to accommodate them.
Of course, it will still be hard to get a deal made — but no harder than it would have been to make one with people who pretend to agree with you but feel no urgency to get anything done.
Loser: Democrats (politically)
Yet though Democrats’ policy hopes are still alive on DACA, the aborted shutdown fight still may have done a fair amount of damage to the party internally. Not because of any pundit spin, but because of sounds of disappointment from base voters and activists.
Over the last few years, the Democratic base has turned to immigrant activists — often DREAMers themselves — to set the tone on immigration demands. And immigrant activists have less loyalty toward Democrats and more skepticism that they’ll do the right thing than most other progressives (they don’t remember Obama too fondly).
To them, it was kind of a pleasant surprise when Democrats held the line Friday night and agreed to allow the shutdown deadline to pass with no deal — and then a crushing return to form on Monday when they, yet again, broke their own apparent promises to themselves and to immigrants. They’re angry and betrayed, and much of the rest of the base agrees.
Sure, Democrats and centrist pundits can try to make the case that a shutdown was always unlikely to lead the Republican president, Republican House majority, and Republican Senate majority to cave on DACA. But that’s cold comfort for people whose futures, or the futures of their friends or family, depend on having champions in Washington — and who saw Democrats fail, once again, to hold firm.
Winner: Non-essential government employees who got the day off
While a government shutdown is indeed a major event, it’s not quite as dramatic as it sounds — the entire federal government certainly doesn’t shut down. Military and law enforcement activities continue. Social Security checks still go out. Air traffic controllers still go to work.
However, activities the government has deemed “nonessential” stop, and employees tasked with those activities are furloughed —they’re told they won’t work or be paid until the shutdown is resolved. For the last shutdown, in 2013, this “nonessential” group totaled about 40 percent of federal nonmilitary employees.
This time around, though, the first two days of the shutdown were over the weekend, when the vast majority of these employees weren’t working anyway. Today, the procedure for what they’d do varied by agency — per NPR, some agencies had enough money to keep their employees working, some had their employees come in and turned them away, and some told their employees to stay home.
So in the end, some people ended up with a three-day weekend, and avoided the pain of a prolonged furlough with no pay. Not bad.
Winner (in the short term, at least): President Trump
The president’s bungling of immigration negotiations may have helped lead to the government shutdown, but once it began he handled it about as well as could be expected — by staying out of it.
This thwarted Schumer’s evident hopes that a shutdown would spur Trump to come to the table and negotiate a DACA deal. (Schumer tried to make this happen in an Oval Office meeting on Friday, and then made repeated personal appeals for Trump’s intervention over the weekend, claiming that “only the president” could end the shutdown.)
But Trump hung back. He tweeted attacks on Democrats for shutting down the government, but he didn’t take Schumer’s bait and reward Democrats with negotiations or concessions. And finally, on Monday, Democrats agreed to reopen the government anyway, based on a promise from McConnell.
This likely didn’t solve Trump’s problems in the long term. He’s still caught between his evident desire to avoid blame for DACA recipients’ deportation, and his desire to keep his anti-immigrant base fired up. Perhaps he would have been better served by actually negotiating with Schumer.
But for now, he got his government reopened without giving away the store. And Republican members of Congress and commentators generally appear to be far happier about how the shutdown weekend went than Democrats are.
Loser: groups whose funding could conceivably be taken hostage by Congress in the future
A disturbing pattern of hostage-taking has emerged in American politics. President Trump effectively took DACA recipients hostage last September, by announcing he’d end the program, apparently as part of an effort to force an immigration bill that would include major Democratic concessions to him in exchange for legalizing DACA. They are still held hostage.
Congressional Republicans, then, took CHIP kids hostage when the program’s funding ran out. They refused to simply put forward a standalone bill reauthorizing the program. Instead, they decided, they could attach CHIP to something they needed Democratic votes on — like a government funding bill.
As an effort to free the DACA hostages, Democrats’ themselves then took the federal government hostage by causing this brief shutdown — even at the cost of postponing the new CHIP money.
In the end there was a sort of hostage exchange, with CHIP kids and the government set free, and Senate Republicans making a vague promise for a DACA vote. But anyone with fears of being held hostage in the future has good reason to worry. Hostage situations can sometimes get messy.