Government Shutdown: The Big Story Getting Little Attention
In any other time, a looming government shutdown would (and has) dominated news coverage for weeks leading up to the deadline for congressional action to keep the federal government open and functioning. With a government shutdown deadline looming over the nation this week, mainstream news outlets have devoted little to no time to addressing the consequences of the Republican-dominated government’s failure to act.
What Shutdown Means
In order for the federal government to function, it needs (at a minimum) funding. That funding pays employees, keeps resources available, and ensures the basic operation of government. Without funding, employees are put on furlough, national monuments, parks and attractions must close, and everyday federal workers with families ultimately pay the price for partisan politics.
Perhaps worse than the individual hardships government employees and their families endure, government shutdowns cost the nation literally billions of dollars. During the October 2013 shutdown, the economy suffered tens of billions of dollars worth of damage in lost wages, lost revenues, and lost economic output.
That’s why using the potential for a shutdown as leverage or as a political bargaining tool – regardless of party – angers so many people. Putting people’s lives on the line for partisan gains is not why lawmakers are elected to Congress.
It’s also why – despite the government being a Republican majority – Trump is attempting to preemptively blame Democrats if the GOP majority fails to pass a budget (or even a stopgap bill to allow time to pass a larger budget).
Trump Lashes Out
Speaking to reporters at the White House today, Donald Trump rushed to blame the Democratic minority in Congress for the GOP majority’s failure to pass stopgap legislation in a timely manner.
“It could happen,” he said referring to the impending shutdown. “The Democrats are really looking at something that is very dangerous for our country. They are looking at shutting down.”
He added, “They want to have illegal immigrants pouring into our country, bringing with them crime. Tremendous amounts of crime. We don’t have to have that. We want to have a great, beautiful, crime-free country. And we want people to coming into our country, but we want them to come on our basis.”
On the contrary, congressional Democrats have actually said very little in terms of whether they would support or oppose temporary measures to keep the government from shutting down this week.
What Democrats have indicated they would want included in any measure they support – something that has little to do with so-called “illegal immigration” – is the continuation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections for “Dreamers.” By the very definition of the program, DACA recipients cannot be criminals, so Trump’s remarks make little sense.
Moreover, the budget impasse problem actually lies not with Democrats but at the heart of the ongoing rift in the Republican party.
House Freedom Caucus leaders emerged from a closed-door meeting with Speaker Paul Ryan Wednesday morning — their second in two days — saying no deal has been reached. Conservatives are asking for a commitment leadership does not believe it can give them: a promise to “hold the line” and refuse Senate Democrats’ demands for increased spending on non-defense programs.
GOP leaders do not believe that’s realistic since the Senate needs eight Senate Democrats to pass any long-term funding deal. And those on the left have demanded “parity”— namely, equivalent increases for defense and non-defense priories in other agencies — in order to win their votes.
The back and forth highlights the dilemma conservatives face: Freedom Caucus members appear torn over whether to back the measure to keep the focus on tax reform — or use their leverage to try to win a promise from leaders to take a harder line on year-end spending.
If Paul Ryan is unable to convince the far-right portion of his own party to vote with the rest of Republicans, they’ll be “forced” to work in a bipartisan manner with Democrats to come to an agreement. That’s not to say Republicans need Democratic votes outright; they only need them if they can’t come to an internal agreement among themselves.
If the conservative faction ultimately backs the package, it would likely seal the GOP’s hopes of avoiding the need for a last-minute deal with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) or Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who could demand additional concessions to keep the government open. Many Democrats are vowing to vote against government funding legislation if it doesn’t also provide deportation relief for Dreamers, the undocumented immigrants who came to the country as minors.
Indeed, without the Freedom Caucus votes, Ryan warned that he would need to bring Democrats into the talks to keep the government funded past Friday.
This is what the nation has come to in its brief history: the threat of having to work across the aisle is now the worst case, doomsday scenario majority lawmakers are decrying as a method of wrangling their infighting factions. And should they fail to come to an agreement, one of two things will happen:
Either Paul Ryan will work with Democrats to ensure their input is considered as a part of the stopgap (or full budget) consideration;
Or the GOP-led Congress will force Donald Trump to shut down the government on Saturday.