Last week, the U.S. Congress reached an impasse on a spending bill and that lead to a government shutdown. While the House of Representatives was able to pass its spending bill with a 230-197 votes after concessions were made to the House Freedom Caucus, the Democrats in the Senate let it be known that the Republicans didn’t have enough votes.
In the Senate, the Republicans dealt with dissent in their own ranks. By Friday January 19, 2018, the nine Senate Democrats who voted for the spending bill in December joined the 30 Democrats and a handful of Republicans who opposed this spending bill. Among the Republicans joining the Democrats was Jeff Flake (Arizona), who said that he was withholding his vote because of the broken promise to protect DREAMers.
Ultimately, the Senate missed the midnight deadline, so the government was shut down. The shutdown was brief because of a vote on Monday which extended the funding for the government — for three weeks.
Why Was There a Government Shutdown?
There are a multitude of reasons for the government shutdown, but these are the leading causes:
- Procedural Rules
Yes, the top cause of this shutdown was partisanship. Partisanship is a problem here not because of how many Democrats held together but because of what both sides were fighting for and how contentious legislation have become in the past two decades alone.
Since Barack Obama became president, there was more Republican obstructionism and those attitudes have carried over to everything. This latest spending budget is not different.
Republicans have made things worse by passing continuing resolutions to fund the government instead of long-term spending bills. They do this in order to pressure Democrats at each pass in order to push budget cuts to important social programs (in order to pay for the tax cuts they just passed and increased military spending).
2. Procedural Rules
Government shutdowns happen because of procedural rules in Congress and the interpretation of the Antideficiency Act. Since 1976, there have been 19 government shutdowns including this one because Congress is called to shut down the government if budgeting shortfalls are not resolved by a certain deadline.
Also, the process is held up by the need for supermajorities. This type of spending bill requires 60 votes. But there are only 51 Republicans currently in the Senate. As David RePass explained:
For the first thirteen decades of its existence, the Senate allowed unlimited debate. This meant that a single senator, or just a few, could hold up passage of legislation by talking interminably (filibustering). This tactic was rarely used at first, but over the years it began to be employed often enough that in 1917 the Senate adopted a Cloture Rule; debate could be ended by a two-thirds vote. The two-thirds was later changed three-fifths.
In recent years, cloture has been turned upside down. Now all the minority needs to do to prevent a bill from even reaching the floor is simply to threaten to filibuster. Debate never begins. Real filibusters almost never take place. This is called a “silent” filibuster — an oxymoron if there ever was one.
In years past, real filibusters rarely happened since they required opposition senators to go to the effort of standing on their feet and speaking continuously for hours on end. Only the most intense and dedicated opposition would mount filibusters. But with the advent of the “silent” filibuster, which requires no effort (other than telling the Majority Leader that there are 41 members opposed to a bill), the number of “filibusters” has increased enormously. The practice of requiring a supermajority of 60 has now become routine.
Republicans may this worse by abusing the silent filibuster during Obama’s administration.
At one point, there was some confusion about what the Republicans should do. That confusion was caused by Trump, who made a flurry of contradictory tweets. In one tweet, Trump said that the Democrats were endangering the military. In another tweet, he seemed to indicate that a children’s health program shouldn’t be a bargaining chip for a temporary spending bill.
What Happens During a Shutdown?
In short, during a prolonged shutdown, people who work for the government, but hold nonessential jobs will be furloughed after a certain point. The 2013 government shutdown provided gave people an in-depth look of what can happen since it lasted 16 days. However, some agencies have since updated their contingency plans.
- While the Defense Department would furlough 78% of its workforce, the military would have most of its personnel. All 1.3 million members on active duty and in combat missions would still work (without pay). People in nonessential civilian roles would be furloughed. In the case of a prolonged shutdown, ships would go without maintenance and aircraft would eventually be grounded.
- Most of the White House staff would be furloughed, although the president would be provided with enough staff to perform his essential tasks.
- Veterans affairs would be highly functional, with only 4% of its staff being furloughed.
In some cases, Congress could call for emergency funds (especially with regards to the military) and some agencies could bring back workers to help in an emergency.
The only department that wouldn’t suffer from budget shortfalls is the United States Postal Service because all of its revenue is raised from charging customers.
How Did This One End?
On Sunday, a bipartisan group of roughly 20 “centrist” senators met in order to strike a deal to fund the government. According to reports, there was a deal in the works to get the Democrats to agree to a spending deal in exchange from a Republican promise to work on DACA legislation.
The group of senators included:
- Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
- Mike Rounds (R-SD)
- Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
- Chris Coons (D-DE)
- Joe Manchin (D-WV)
- Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
- Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
- Dick Durbin (D-IL)
- Time Kaine (D-VA)
- Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
- Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
- Mark Warner (D-VA)
However, there was no deal at that time, mainly because there was doubt the Republicans (and especially Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell would honor that promise.
On the evening of Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, Congress finally voted to end the government shutdown. The Senate passed its bill in the early afternoon with an 81-18 vote; the House of Representatives passed a similar bill hours later with a 266-150 vote.
The spending resolution provided a deal to fund CHIP for six years, which went 114 days without a budget. Democrats also received a promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he would allow for a vote for some kind of immigration legislation in the coming weeks. However, this spending bill only provided funding for a three-week period that ends on Feb. 8.
Did the Democrats Cave?
I’ll let you decide.
Ezra Klein says, ‘Nuh-uh.’
After Congress passed a spending bill to end the shutdown, Klein shared 13 thoughts about the process, while defending the Senate Democrats. While Klein held that he didn’t like shutdowns or the prospect of any party holding public programs or people in need hostage, he said that the Democrats has a victory because they secured CHIP funding for six years and kept the shutdown leverage over the Republicans.
Russell Berman Says, ‘Yeah-Huh.’
What was wrong with the bill?
In short, Berman said the Democrats voted for a bill that was nearly identical to the bill they rejected on Friday, Jan. 19. So, while they may have gotten CHIP funding, that was something the Republicans offered to begin with and the Democrats didn’t get much else.
To make matters worse, the Democrats went back on their promise to protect DREAMers, instead only receiving a tepid promise for comprehensive immigration legislation in the future. There are two things wrong with that. First, Mitch McConnell’s promise is as worthless as a $3 bill. Second, such legislation would undoubtedly be ruined by Trump’s demands and the Freedom Caucus in the House.
Furthermore, the bill didn’t have the support of the progressive members of the Senate, some of the leaders in the House, or some prospective presidential candidates. Among the people who were against the bill included Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.
In Addition …
There were Democratic leaders who were willing to put funding for the wall up as a bargaining chip during the negotiations.
On Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, it was revealed that some Democratic leaders were “receptive” to the idea of funding Donald Trump’s blasted wall. Minutes after the Senate failed to pass a resolution to fund the federal government, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer revealed that he had a meeting with Trump on Friday and during that meeting, Schumer said that the Democrats were willing to put the wall on the table in order to reach an agreement on immigration. Later on Saturday, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois) said that he was willing to back off his opposition to the wall in order to get protections for recipients for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Despite these concessions, Trump rejected the deal. According to Sen. Schumer’s version of events, he, Michael Lynch (his chief of staff), Trump, and John Kelly (Trump’s chief of staff) sat together in a 90-minute meeting at the Oval Office. There, Schumer put the wall “on the table,” but Trump rejected it. The White House later said that it wanted immigration to be part of a separate bill.
Who Was to Blame?
Before the shutdown happened, several polls found that most voters would blame the GOP and Trump:
Before the Shutdown
According to a Hart Research Associates Poll commissioned by MoveOn.org, 42 percent of Americans would blame Trump and the Republicans for a shutdown. There was another 31% who would blame the Democrats. The margins were more pronounced among independents (16 points) and undecided voters (19 points).
According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, 48% of respondents were ready to blame Trump and the Republicans for any shutdown.
Did those numbers hold up?
After the Shutdown
After the shutdown, there were mixed results for the Democrats. While Public Policy Polling found that 52% of respondents blamed Trump and the GOP for the shutdown, PPP is “liberal-leaning” and more registered Democrats participated in this poll. According to an NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll, a plurality of voters may have blamed Democrats more than the GOP, although Trump himself more blame than his party.
What I Think
This fight was brought about by Republicans who used certain programs as leverage. The Republicans control both chambers of Congress, but they needed to get 60 votes in the Senate to pass this bill. In order to cause fractures in the Democratic caucus, they held programs like Medicare and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) hostage.
Let me state this again: The Republicans were holding programs like Medicare and the CHIP hostage. These are popular programs and the Republicans threatened to slash their budgets. The case of CHIP is especially odd.
CHIP was a highly popular program when it was created in 1997. it received bipartisan support, particularly from the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R).
CHIP remained popular for 20 years because it worked well, reducing the number of uninsured children. According to studies, the children who were apart of the program were likely to see a dentist and generally received care that was comparable to the care children received through private insurance.
This changed in 2017 when CHIP started to be used as a bargaining chip in budget discussions. In September, Republicans let the funding for the program expire.
In addition, the Republicans resisted efforts to avert a shutdown by allowing more time for debate and Trump rejected a deal that included funding for his ridiculous wall idea. On top of that, he and his people insist on inserting hardliners like Tom Cotton in any discussion when Democrats tried to open a direct dialogue.
Still, I think this is an opportunity for Democrats. While they might receive more blame now, it will pass and they just need to work on their framing.
What Is Wrong with the Democrats’ Framing?
This is hard for me to break down, but this video explains it beautifully:
In short, the Democrats needed to use their platform to apply pressure to the Republicans. Now, I agree with what the Democrats were asking for:
- A clean DACA bill
- Disaster funding, especially after 2017’s natural disasters
- Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP funding
Yet they allowed the Republicans to control the narrative (illegal immigrants over our military) and didn’t shine a light on the Republicans’ tax bill. While Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) showed that the military argument was nonsense, Democrats should have ask for more from the GOP and show that the latter was willing to hold children, families, the sick, the poor, and the elderly hostage.
For instance, I already discussed why I am opposed to the wall. But Democrats need to remind people that the wall would be costly, it would result in lawsuits because of property disputes, it will not stop illegal immigration, and Mexico will pay for that thing.
Democrats need to make DACA an election issue and take it away as a spending bill bargaining chip. Personally, I hate shutdowns and I can’t defend using DREAMers as a reason to shut down the government. Yet most Americans support protecting dreamers.
That said, Democrats also need to let the Republicans know that they shall receive NO Democratic votes for reactionary bills. And the Democrats need to let the American people know how the GOP betrayed them, at least in the past year (net neutrality, privacy laws, proposed cuts to social programs, the tax bill, etc.).
This government shutdown might not have an effect on this year’s mid-term elections, but it’s an opportunity for Democrats to build on the things most Americans agree on and show Americans who cares about them. These are important elections coming up and we need real representation.