The U.S. Senate found just enough compromise on Monday to end a three-day government shutdown for at least three more weeks. That is good news, all things considered, but also just a fraction of what will be needed to end a monthslong standoff over a federal budget.
First, the encouraging parts of Monday’s agreement. The Senate bargain secures a six-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which is vital to nearly 9 million low-income children. It was on the verge of running out of money months after Republicans allowed it to expire. It must be said that this was a needless and particularly cruel bargaining chip. The GOP could have extended the program at any time, but for those whose lives depend on the program, its extension is welcome.
Second, Democrats have obtained a pledge by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow a vote on a bipartisan plan to fix the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. In another heedless bit of gamesmanship, President Donald Trump made DACA a pressure point by rescinding his predecessor’s executive order, which protected undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children from being deported. Trump gave Congress until early March to reinstate the program through legislative action. Failure to do so would expose an estimated 800,000 people to eviction from this country and a prolonged prohibition on a possible return. That is an unthinkable outcome.
What McConnell offered is minimal, at best. There are no assurances of passage or even specific elements of a bill, simply an agreement to permit a vote. Even Senate passage of a bipartisan DACA fix would not guarantee a similar outcome in the House, where Republicans have held a hard line despite overwhelming public support for a path to citizenship for Dreamers. Some DACA supporters are already taking potshots at Senate Democrats for “caving.” But there is a real cost to government shutdowns, with the pain growing as the shutdown lengthens.
Those who support protections for Dreamers and reasonable immigration changes should keep the pressure on their elected officials, not turn on those who have been working toward their goal — including Republicans who have taken part in bipartisan talks. To create a more functional Congress, compromise must be valued, not disparaged. The alternative is endless tribalism and gridlock. Even the chaos of the last few days has been damaging. It must stop.
That said, there should be no more Band-Aids. Republicans have set themselves a tight timeline with this latest patch. They have to achieve by Feb. 8 what has eluded them since last fall — a long-term spending bill that adequately funds domestic programs, addresses military needs and provides a fiscally responsible road map.
The primary burden of leadership is in taking responsibility for what happens. If Republicans need Democratic votes, it is up to them to work toward a real compromise that achieves that goal. Anything else is a failure of leadership and an abdication of responsibility.