Federal government shutdowns have become a disturbingly frequent occurrence in this country, but the prospect of shutting down a government run entirely by a single party borders on the absurd.
Brinkmanship was a signature move for Republicans under divided government. Incredibly, it has remained so even though they control the House, the Senate and the presidency. And they continue to blame out-of-power Democrats for their inability to perform one of their most important duties: pass the spending budget that funds the government they control.
At issue is a refusal by conservatives to support a fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that President Donald Trump rescinded, in a strong-arm attempt to force the issue of immigration reform. With a stroke, he left 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought as young children subject to deportation by March.
Democrats vowed to protect those Dreamers, but Republicans hold another choice bit of leverage: reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) as part of a continuing resolution that would fund the government for another month. The program covers nearly 9 million low-income children.
That’s a disturbingly cynical move that is likely to work, simply because Democrats probably won’t pass up a chance to lock down funding for a program that is gasping for dollars, on the verge of disenrolling children within weeks. Already Republicans have begun accusing Democrats of being willing to sell out the nation’s poor children in favor of protecting undocumented immigrants. This is a burn-all-the-bridges approach that is a poor recipe for long-term, responsible leadership of a nation.
Many Americans still harbor a notion, born in bygone days, that popular initiatives that fill a needed function should be enacted based on merit. But these days, every piece of legislation — no matter how logical, necessary or popular — is simply another pressure point. Indeed, the more logical, necessary and popular the bill, the greater its value as leverage.
Republican leaders know full well that the American public overwhelmingly supports both a fix that would allow Dreamers to stay in this country and an extension of CHIP. Many of the party’s members support the programs. Nothing prevented them from extending CHIP before now, and sparing parents and the medical community the pain and chaos the lapse has created.
Even reauthorizing CHIP will not address the ongoing crisis with Community Health Clinics, which provide vital care to more than 27 million Americans in underserved areas across the country, including Minnesota. Already the failure to provide continued funding for those clinics has some centers laying off staff and area hospitals preparing for an influx of patients into emergency rooms. Similarly, dozens of GOP members — some in vulnerable seats — sought a vote on DACA, to no avail.
All this for a resolution that merely extends the squabbling and gamesmanship another month. This is not responsible leadership. Trump is right when he says the military cannot plan for long-range improvements in a government that lurches from one short-term compromise to the next (this will be the fourth continuing resolution in a matter of months). But the military is not the only one hurting from the lack of stable funding. No private business would long succeed without the simple ability to map out its spending more than a month at a time.
Depending on the day’s events, the government may start shutting down at the end of the day on Friday. Or perhaps a deal will have been struck by the time you read this. But keep in mind, that would only prolong the pain another few weeks, when the whole dreary, dysfunctional cycle that passes for governing these days would begin anew. There is a better way.