This past weekend, the U.S. federal government entered into a shutdown. So what does this even mean? Basically, Congress could not pass a government funding bill through both houses getting the required amount of votes. During a shutdown, many citizens will not notice a difference in the way they interact with government, because we only tend to deal with local government. Those who receive any sort of welfare benefits will not have those benefits impacted, and national parks will still operate on a very limited basis. However, those who are considered “non-essential” government employees are put on furlough, many “essential” government employees are forced to work without pay, the military will continue to operate with no pay, and those in Congress will continue to collect their paychecks. The non-essential employees account for roughly half of the just over 2 million federal workers, excluding the military and postal workers. Yeah, you read that right, Congress gets paid, but apparently, the average American can go on just fine. To be fair, some in Congress are asking for their paychecks to be withheld or are donating them, but the majority have done nothing. Seems kind of hypocritical, considering that many in Congress are multimillionaires and can afford to go years with no pay.
So why is there a government shutdown, and who’s to blame? The main reason behind the shutdown was the refusal of the Democratic Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, to compromise and work with Republicans in Congress on reaching a deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). In order to reach a deal, Republicans wanted to fund a southern border wall and increase border security spending, which almost every Democrat sponsored back in 2006 when it was passed in a congressional bill, including Schumer and then Senator Hillary Clinton. So what changed between now and then? How could Democrats so easily flip on an issue? The majority of Republicans support giving some sort of legal status to those who qualify under DACA and have made offers to the Democrats. If the blame belongs anywhere, it’s on Schumer and the Democratic Party right now.
The good news is that the shutdown is over. This means that everyone will be paid for the time they worked over the three-day span of the shutdown and everything can go back to normal. This also is good news for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which has received funding for six more years and cannot be used as a political pawn during that time. (FYI, I do not support the politicians who used children’s health care as a political pawn.)
The shutdown ended with Senate Democrats breaking down and accepting the original Republican funding bill, so literally, nothing has changed. On the other side of the aisle, Republicans appear victorious because they gave away nothing and maintained the message that they were ready to talk about DACA and the wall and ultimately got away with giving Democrats a promise to draft and consider legislation. (This promise was overturned later by Schumer in a public statement refusing to fund a wall.) Schumer is back to his newfound (as of 2013) love for Dreamers and their future votes, but they are certainly not loving him, as evidenced by late-night protests outside of his New York City home.
It’s also important to note that many 2020 Democratic hopefuls, like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, voted against the bill. Is this because they thought it would look good to their Democratic base in the primaries? Or do they actually believe that leaving the government unfunded would force a deal on DACA? The evidence suggests the former.
However, now is the time for Congress to act and come together. Congress now has a March deadline to meet in order to fix this mess. As long as both parties are willing to come to the table, understand each other’s positions, and have productive conversations, I believe that most of DACA can be reinstated through congressional law as well as funding for a border wall. But to be fair this will require both sides to play fair. There can be no Congressmen, like Senator Dick Durbin, claiming that the other side made an outrageous remark behind closed doors (even after multiple Senators accused Durbin of lying). There can also be none of President Trump’s inflammatory tweets that will rile up the Democrats and allow them to leave the negotiating table. Both sides need to start behaving like grown adults instead of five-year-old children who go running to their parents making up lies to try to get each other punished.
My hope is that if the two sides can come together around this issue, we can work on other major issues like healthcare reform, entitlement reform, and so much more. If the two sides can come together and stop their childish behavior, I believe that this country can move forward on a path not seen since the height of the industrial revolution.