Not So Fast on the #SchumerShutdown

Jeffrey Albertson/26 Jan. 2018

By now, the verdict on the 3-day federal government shutdown has been decided: “Schumer [Sold] Out Resistance.”

That is, at least, the namesake of a recent article from The New York Times opinion section. While efforts at re-litigating the shutdown may appear redundant or moot, the takeaway should be that Democrats were in a winless position on multiple fronts.

As we heard all weekend, the Republican Party has majorities in the House and Senate and owns the White House. Considering that the Republicans in the House had the means to pass a short-term continuing resolution is no anomaly. In the Senate, Republicans only have 51 votes and a Republican vice president, who would nonetheless serve as the tie-break. At midnight when funding expired, absent any significant bi-partisan agreement on the Delayed Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the government shutdown. With only 50 Senators voting in favor—10 votes short of the 60 vote requirement—the spending bill passed by the House on Thursday, effective died.

What ensued was a game of political back-and-forth, ultimately positioning Republicans to argue that Democrats were withholding defense spending over illegal immigration—a message resonating with the Trump-base and technically nonetheless inaccurate. As competing polling emerged that laid blame on the President and Republicans in Congress and in turn on Democrats, it was only a matter of time before one side blinked. It happened to be the Democrats who gave in, but the widespread criticism should be tempered.

Since Republican Presidential candidates began lining up in 2015, matters of illegal immigration have been at the forefront of their agenda. So much so that “build the wall” became a rallying cry. To Republicans, defense spending is the sacred cow that should never be questioned and should be subject to increases, even at the expense of social programs. To make a stand on two issues that Republicans wholeheartedly own would be foolish. The Democrats have gained some political capital after the election of Sen. Doug Jones in Alabama, but expenditure of such on a losing situation would be a fool’s errand. Thus, Democrats are never going to win an argument between DACA and defense spending.

What Democrats gained was a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold a vote on the DACA issues in exchange for agreeing to the continuing resolution passed on Monday. Another notable success is six years of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which Republicans tried to go after in 2015, even though it’s traditionally been viewed with high popularity regardless of ideology. Democrats would not be in error if they were skeptical of McConnell’s pledges given the failure to bring a healthcare vote to fruition—a pledge he gave Senator Susan Collins in exchange for a “yes” vote on tax reform. To date, he has yet to honor a pledge made to Senator Jeff Flake to bring immigration legislation currently under review to a vote on the Senate floor in January 2018.

The challenge may be that in the coming weeks, the same issues may present should a budget resolution not be agreed upon.

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