Friday marks the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump taking the oath of office, and unless lawmakers can eke out a deal in the coming days, it could also mark the first government shutdown under his watch, and under unified one-party control in Washington.
Trump declared back in May that the country “needs a good shutdown” to “fix mess,” and amid uncertainty that lawmakers and the White House can agree on a path forward on government funding, immigration, or health care, a shutdown is becoming a tangible possibility.
Between now and Friday, Congress and the White House will scramble to cut a deal on DACA, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and a continuing resolution to keep the government open. Should those talks fail, the race will be on to blame the opposing party for the ensuing wreckage.
Doffing the spending caps
Over the past few weeks, high hopes for crafting a long-term budget deal have evaporated, and lawmakers are instead attempting to cobble together the votes for yet another short-term package to keep the lights on—the fourth continuing resolution in four months. The bill put forward by the House would fund the government until Feb. 16.
“We should have had a budget by October of last year. This is outrageous,” fumed Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) to reporters Tuesday night.
Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) echoed his frustration minutes later, complaining that the Pentagon can’t function on week-by-week or month-by-month budget uncertainty.
“I am tired of making the men and women in the military suffer because of stupid politicians,” he said. “Those who designed sequestration, I think, have blood on their hands.”
Both parties profess to hate this temporary can-kicking style of government funding, but with Republicans insisting on cuts to domestic spending paired with hikes for military spending, and Democrats demanding both sides of the equation be equally raised, a long-term budget deal has proved elusive. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) confirmed to reporters Tuesday that they have not yet reached a deal on spending caps.
A DREAM deferred?
A week ago, Congress and the White House appeared on the verge of embracing a bipartisan immigration deal that would have thrown as much as $1.6 billion at increasing border security, restricted multiple forms of legal immigration, and protected the 700,000 young immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that Trump terminated last year.
Today, hopes for such a deal are fading fast, and the House proposal released Tuesday night offers nothing for the people who could lose their DACA protections in March or sooner.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)—the only Democrat present in last week’s infamous “shithole” meeting at the White House—revealed in a tense Senate hearing Tuesday that the White House repeatedly moved the goalposts on the terms for an immigration deal, at one point demanding a full $20 billion in border wall funding—a tenfold increase of the amount he originally requested—in exchange for protecting DACA recipients from deportation.
After the hearing, Graham railed against the White House staff he believes are whispering in Trump’s ear and goading him into an extreme anti-immigration stance, and vowed to pull the president back to a more reasonable position.
“To the 700,000 DACA kids, we’re not going to leave you behind,” he told a gaggle of reporters. “We’re not going to let it end like this.”
Despite the White House’s penchant for abruptly changing positions, and deep skepticism about the deal from both conservative Republicans and progressive Democrats, Graham and Durbin are plowing ahead. They hope to introduce a bill this week and and convince enough of their colleagues to come on board to pass something in the coming days.
Many Democrats, though notably not the party’s leaders, are vowing to vote against any budget deal that doesn’t include relief for DACA recipients.
“These are Americans in every single way except on paper,” said Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), telling reporters he won’t support any deal that leaves out DACA. “They serve in our military. They are first responders. These are teachers. We should honor and respect that. I’m not going to leave them behind.”
If enough Senate Democrats take this stance, it could prevent a funding bill from passing the upper chamber.
Let the CHIPs fall where they may
As hundreds of thousands of immigrant families watch Washington’s negotiations with bated breath, millions of low-income families who depend on CHIP for their health insurance fear that coverage could disappear, with the program’s funding set to run out in some states in just a few weeks.
Even following a new report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office that renewing CHIP’s funding for 10 years would actually save the government billions of dollars, Republicans have yet to embrace a long-term deal for the program. Instead, they have put forward a new proposal likely to face some Democratic opposition: renewing CHIP for six years while delaying Obamacare’s medical device tax, health insurance tax, and “Cadillac” tax on high-cost health plans.
GOP leaders hope the tax delays will coax on board Republicans reluctant to support a short-term spending bill.
But Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), chair of the hardline Freedom Caucus, says the group doesn’t see the tax delays as much of a sweetener.
“That’s more of a gimmick than a reality,” he told reporters Tuesday. “Let’s face it: if we’re going to be serious about repealing the ACA, it’s not just the tax that’s the issue. And based on my discussions with my members, there’s not a whole lot of support for a short-term CR.”
Should the Freedom Caucus vote as a bloc, they could prevent passage of the spending bill in the House.
Republicans control every branch of government, but they need Democratic votes to pass a funding bill to avert a government shutdown. That gives us several ways the next few days could play out.
- The government shuts down and the finger-pointing ensues.
- Trump reverse-reverses, accepts a DACA deal, and pressures conservative Republicans to accept it as well.
- Dems cave on DACA, Republicans cave on spending caps, a short-term deal that solves none of the ongoing problems narrowly passes.