Analysis: First US Federal Government Shutdown Explained

 
 

With another shutdown in effect, Andrew Grossen analyses the first shutdown that led to the current state of affairs

On January 22nd, the Democratic Party leadership in the U.S.A agreed to back a short-term government funding resolution ending the three-day federal government shutdown. This was after they accepted promises from Republicans that there would be a debate on the future of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children.

The current resolution that keeps the government funded until February 8th is the latest of multiple short-term funding bills Congress has passed in recent months, unable to come to a long-term bipartisan agreement. In the immediate aftermath of the shutdown, Democrats and Republicans are each blaming the other party, while claiming their own victory. To understand the political ramifications for both parties, it is important to understand how and why the government shutdown happened in the first place.

Negotiations over long-term appropriations have been ongoing since last October, when the 2018 fiscal year began. Within that time, disputes over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy became entangled with budget debates when the Trump administration rescinded DACA in September. The Administration put the issue to Congress, setting an expiration date of March 2018. DACA was the immigration policy established by the Obama Administration that allowed certain individuals who were brought to the country illegally as minors (referred to as “Dreamers”) to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and be eligible for a work permit. As of 2017, approximately 800,000 individuals were enrolled in DACA protections.

Democrats wanted a bipartisan DACA deal to be adopted before Republicans passed their budget that increased funding for Trump’s border wall, his staple immigration proposal. To Democrats, they actually succeeded in coming up with a deal on immigration in the form of the “Graham-Durbin deal” (referring to Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Dick Durbin). The package negotiated by the senators, according to sources, included $2.7 billion for border security, which includes Trump’s $1.6 billion request for wall planning and construction, as well as $1.1 billion for security infrastructure and technology. The legislation would also include a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. This deal, Democrats would claim, was rejected by the White House and more conservative Republicans in Congress. Republicans maintain it was an unfair proposal. This lead Democrats and their supporters to draw a line in the sand, saying “No DACA, no deal.”

On 20th January, this line in the sand took the form of a filibuster, a Senate procedural tool to extend debate which requires a super-majority of 60 votes to end. The filibuster is how a party with majorities in both houses of congress, and a president in the executive branch failed to prevent a shutdown. Republicans needed Democratic votes to pass the budget. President Trump has repeatedly called for the Senate to end the filibuster, advocating for the “nuclear option” which would lower the threshold for votes to a simple 51-majority.

Republicans initially thought they could pressure the Democrats into voting with them by including the refunding of the Children’s Health Insurance Program into the budget bill. However, Democrats held their line. By midnight, Republicans lacked the votes to overcome the filibuster and the government began shutting down. The vote was not strictly on party-lines. Five Republicans voted with the 47 Democrats and five Democrats voted with 51 Republicans. When Senate Democrats agreed to end the shutdown, the battle of blame had been present on social media and cable news, Trump and Republicans labeling it the #SchumerShutdown (referring to the Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer) while Democrats placed the blame at the president with #TrumpShutdown. This year’s November elections has high stakes for both parties. Republicans are decreasing in popularity and are growing anxious about holding on to their majority in both houses. Meanwhile, Democrats are on the defensive, cautious of overplaying their liberal hand and losing Democrats in Trump-won states.

The shutdown may have ended, but the fight over immigration and a long-term budget remains. The White House presented a plan to Congress on Thursday that would provide a path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants in exchange for restrictions on future immigration and $25 billion for border security. As the shutdown brought higher public attention to DACA, this can be expected to be at the forefront of the budget debate prior to the deadline of February 8th.

The long-term political consequences are harder to gauge. In the aftermath of the 17 day long shutdown in 2013, Republicans were blamed in the opinion polls but then achieved high electoral success in the 2014 midterms. Showing the public mostly forgot, or forgave, the shutdown. This shutdown will most likely also  be forgotten by the general public. However, the possibility of shutdown in three weeks still remains, and this could be more consequential than the previous. Until then, while each party claims victories and points fingers, the public sees a dysfunctional Congress plagued by partisanship.

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