President Trump signed a short-term spending bill last Monday, effectively bringing an end to the three-day government shutdown that commenced the previous Friday. “Big win for Republicans as Democrats cave on Shutdown,” President Trump tweeted that night.
Over the past week, some lawmakers tried to depict the deal to end the shutdown as a bipartisan success. One of the key components of the deal was a pledge by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow a vote on immigration in a few weeks. Some moderate Republicans and Democrats saw this as an effort to reach across the aisle on Capitol Hill. However, in many ways the shutdown was a loss for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the Democrats.
Since the first occurrence in 1976, the government shutdown has become a commonly employed tactic that lawmakers use to influence policy-making decisions. A shutdown occurs when Congress fails to set a budget for the new year, resulting in a loss of funding for government agencies and programs. Without this funding, most parts of the government are forced to cease operations until a new budget is passed.
While a shutdown does not affect essential agencies such as the military or postal service, it is still a major inconvenience to the public — it usually results in museum and national park closures and hampers agencies ranging from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). This can be strategic for lawmakers who want to push a certain piece of legislation as they can leverage the threat of a shutdown to bring their issue to the Senate floor.
However, more often than not, a shutdown devolves into blame-shifting and finger-pointing rather than inspiring action among lawmakers. While lawmakers can leverage the threat of a government shutdown to achieve a certain agenda, as last weekend’s shutdown shows, this plan also has the potential to significantly backfire.
The recent shutdown was only the latest turn of events to come out of a Congress that was embroiled in a month-long debate over the fate of individuals affected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA is a federal policy that allows foreign-born individuals who illegally entered the U.S. as minors to stay and apply for a work permit. These individuals are commonly referred to as “Dreamers.” With DACA set to expire in March, lawmakers have struggled to come up with a clear plan to account for the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who were previously covered by the program.
This is where the recent shutdown comes into play. In an attempt to force Congress to take action on DACA and a number of other funding decisions, the Democrats refused to vote for any new spending measures until lawmakers addressed those issues. At the time, Schumer and the rest of the Congressional Democrats seemed to take a hard stance against the Republicans’ inaction. However, when the shutdown ended three days later, the DACA issue was noticeably left unresolved.
A recent poll by Quinnipiac University reported that 84 percent of American voters found the shutdown “unnecessary,” and 32 percent said Democrats were to blame in contrast with 18 percent who said Republicans were at fault. Schumer himself has come under fire from lawmakers across the political spectrum, even his own party. Republicans branded the ordeal as the “Schumer Shutdown,” and a growing faction of Democrats blamed him for caving in too soon.
“How do we know the Senate isn’t screwing us?” asked Congresswoman Gwen Moore at a House Democratic Caucus meeting after the deal was announced, according to Politico. Despite the verbal commitment from McConnell to bring the DACA issue to the Senate floor, the Republican leader has a long history of undermining the opposing party’s efforts. Some worry that this will be just another chapter of the same story.
The fate of the Dreamers is an issue worthy of our legislators’ attention; it affects thousands of people for reasons that are no fault of their own. In this sense, one could argue that Schumer’s attempt to enter a government shutdown for leverage against Trump was well-intentioned. However, those good intentions are no longer good enough with the ball back in Trump’s and McConnell’s court on DACA and legitimate concerns over whether the issue will ever be fully addressed.