Senate votes to end shutdown and reopen government

After a Lost Weekend, A Temporary Solution

This weekend the Federal Government began a shutdown as congress failed to reach an agreement on budget resolutions for 3 weeks until the next spending deadline of February 8, 2018.

After more than 2 days of shutting down, many National Parks, and members of the military among other Federal offices began the week in limbo unsure of the status of their pay and operations, although some Federal institutions such as the Smithsonian museums, research centers, and National Zoos, remained open on Monday.

On Monday Senate Minority Leader Schuck Schumer announced that his coalition had reached an agreement with Senate Republican leaders to reopen the government and temporarily fund the government for three weeks.

According to Schumer, “We will vote today to reopen the government”.

After a series of bipartisan meetings and arrangements made over the weekend and into Monday, according to sources privy to the meetings, at least 3 Democratic senators plan to vote for the new budget resolution.

In a procedural vote Monday afternoon the Senate voted 81-18 to allow the bill to advance, meaning it must now be approved by the House, where the bill is expected to pass despite opposition from representatives including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other members of the Democratic caucus since the latest iteration of the bill does not include a fix for DACA.

Playing the Blame Game

The latest shutdown brought with it a Blame Game from both Republicans and Democrats- with Republicans accusing Democrats of using the controversy regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which protects certain young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children from deportation, to hold the government hostage.

In a speech to members of the US armed forces in Syria, Vice President Pence stated that service members and their families “shouldn’t have to worry about getting paid.” and discussed the impact of the shutdown on members of the armed forces.

Democrats including Nancy Pelosi have accused Republicans of causing the shutdown by claiming that they were looking for a more comprehensive budget resolution that addressed spending on a array of domestic programs, although the discussion ultimately centered on including a vote on DACA in the budget.

DACA’s future is still uncertain after President Trump announced last fall that the program would be phased out. The President has supported a compromise on DACA, however, support to eliminate DACA is strong within Republican Congressional caucuses.

Marc Short, legislative director for the President stated yesterday that the administration is “open to a legislative fix” for DACA recipients,

“I think you’ve seen the White House show an openness to expand that population, while Democrats have said there are other people who should be part of the DACA population because they were either afraid or didn’t apply to the program. We’ve shown a willingness to consider that. So we feel like we’re making progress on multiple areas.”

Senator Mitch McConnel has also made handshake assurances to vote on a bill that addresses the status of DACA recipients, although according to Vox, “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.”

An Unlikely Winner- CHIP

The latest spending bill includes a 6-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.

CHIP has not had a long-term budget for over 114 days, and has frozen enrollment since late December, while also notifying thousands of families that their benefits may run out soon.

With the 6 year extension, which was offered by Republicans and initially not accepted by Democrats, received bipartisan support, and states will no longer have to worry about funding for over 9 million kids who are on the program.

Next Steps

The shutdown fight hurt the political capital of Democrats to reach an agreement on DACA, and will be a disappointment to base voters and activists including DREAMers and immigration activists to whom the issue was a latent hope from the Obama administration, and a deal breaker for long-term policy.

What is also important to note is that the latest deal only kicks the can further down the road as a comprehensive solution is still needed before the February 8th deadline.

Federal employees had a bit of a win as some non-essential government employees got a day off on Monday, and with the extension, do not have to worry about furlough with no pay, or accrued wages.

As the House debates the budget resolution another question to consider is whether Congress should hold shutdown powers, and the nature of spending and debt limits as the Treasury reaches another spending deadline on February 28th.

Shutdown powers promote short term thinking in trying to compress large policy decision like immigration into appropriations that have already been earmarked, giving the potential to cause collateral damage and promoting finger pointing and taking hostages like we saw with the latest shutdown.

Hopefully, as Congressional leaders go back to the discussion board to hash out a plan for the February 8th deadline, they can come to an agreement that balances long-term policy goals with short-term objectives.


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