At 12:01 am on Saturday, January 20, the federal government shut down.
Republicans and Democrats are still stuck in a standoff after failing to reach an immigration deal this week. House Republicans passed a bill on Thursday to fund the government for four weeks and extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years, after Congress had failed to reauthorize that program for the last four months.
But on a procedural vote late Friday, which needed 60 votes to advance the House spending bill, 45 Senate Democrats — and five Senate Republicans — rejected it.
Democrats, frustrated with President Trump’s unwillingness to accept a bipartisan proposal to address the nearly 700,000 immigrants in legal limbo after he pledged to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, felt they had no choice and no other leverage but to reject the House spending bill to force DACA negotiations. They were joined by several Republicans also working on a DACA fix and angry over the inability to cut a long-term funding deal for the military.
Republicans dug in to pit DACA recipients against CHIP, even though their majority had failed to make the program’s extension. But Democrats believe they have a compelling case for DACA after Trump’s latest racist tirade, calling some countries “shitholes” in an immigration meeting with lawmakers.
It’s a standoff, for now, with no easy resolution.
Having allowed for the first vote fail on the floor, triggering a shutdown, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made Democrats a counter offer: a shorter short-term spending bill that would keep the government open until February 8, with promise of immigration negotiations in that time.
“The government may be headed into a shutdown but the Senate has not shut down,” McConnell said. Now the mad scramble to fund the government and reopen its doors begins.
What does a federal shutdown actually mean?
A government shutdown means a lot of “nonessential” government activities suddenly cease. As Vox explained, it’s not unusual for Congress to go to the brink of a shutdown; it happened several times in Trump’s first year in office alone. But it’s rare they actually don’t make the deadline.
During shutdowns, federal employees are split into “essential” and “nonessential” groups. Nonessential employees receive furloughs: They stop getting paid and are off work until the shutdown is resolved. Essential workers also stop getting paid, but they still have to work. Usually when a shutdown is over, federal employees are paid back the salaries they went without.
A shutdown usually suspends a lot of government functions. Though the military, air traffic control, federal prisons, and Social Security and other benefit payments typically aren’t affected, the Office of Management and Budget estimated that the shutdown resulted in 120,000 fewer jobs and cut economic growth by 0.2 to 0.6 percent in the last quarter of 2013, the last time the government shut down.
The effects of the 2013 shutdown were pretty substantial:
– Tax refunds totaling almost $4 billion were delayed.
– The Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program went unfunded.
– Federal research activities at the National Institutes of Health (which lost about three-quarters of its employees), the National Science Foundation (which lost 98 percent of its workforce), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (which lost two-thirds) shut down nearly entirely; the CDC scaled back its monitoring of disease outbreaks.
– Environmental Protection Agency inspections halted at 1,200 locations.
– The Food and Drug Administration delayed approval of drugs and medical devices.
– The national parks shut down, resulting in $500 million in lost consumer spending from tourism.
– Reviews of veterans’ disability applications slowed to a halt, with nearly 20,000 applications per week not being evaluated.
So while shutdowns don’t usually result in senior citizens going without their Social Security checks, or shut down the military, it’s still a very serious matter.
For Congress, there’s now a mad scramble to end the shutdown
To end a government shutdown, Congress has to pass a spending bill.
That means Congress can 1) pass the appropriations bills, likely in an omnibus, which just crams together 11 appropriations bills into one spending package; 2) pass a “continuing resolution” (CR), which would fund the government at its current levels, basically buying more time to negotiate the actual appropriations bills (this is what Congress has done since last October); or 3) pass a “CRomnibus,” which is a combination of the two, extending the deadline on certain more contentious appropriations — like for the Department of Homeland Security — and passing a spending bill on the rest.
McConnell has already proposed another CR — one slightly shorter than the one that failed on the floor earlier this evening.
But it’s important to note that Democrats voted down a short-term spending bill Friday over stalled immigration negotiations, and it’s unlikely they’d vote for one without some kind of agreement on the future of the DACA program.
After months of inaction, immigration negotiations have intensified in recent days, but not without tribulations. President Donald Trump and Republican leadership continue to engage hardline immigration hawks who have shown no interest in compromise. Trump reportedly told Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), who occupy the most conservative spaces in the immigration debate, that he wouldn’t support a proposal without their blessing.
That’s a serious red flag for Democrats, whose votes are needed to pass anything on immigration. Meanwhile, Republicans continue to push for immigration negotiations to be kept outside of spending talks.
But with a shutdown hanging overhead, it’s possible Democrats will agree to a shorter CR with the assurance that an immigration bill will be struck in the interim.
Let the blame games begin
Both parties have spent the past few days trying to set up the other side to take the blame for the shutdown, as Vox previously explained:
Senate Republicans are already prepping plans for the weekend, if the government does shut down, to force vulnerable Senate Democrats to take uncomfortable votes, as Politico reported.
Democrats say that Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House — of course it’s their fault if they can’t keep the government open. Republicans, meanwhile, are accusing Democrats of withholding their needed votes in the Senate in order to press for a resolution to the impasse in the immigration debate, even at the expense of the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
The truth is, Republicans didn’t even have the votes to keep the government open on their own. But Democrats also weren’t going to let the government stay open without a DACA deal, even if Republicans had the votes. After Trump blew up the DACA talks in the “shithole” meeting, they felt they had no choice and saw the spending bill as the best leverage.
Democrats have been saying — as Republicans knew — that tying a DACA deal to a spending bill was the only way they could be assured of its success. Immigration hawks are trying to blow up the emerging deal from a bipartisan group of senators. Cotton, one of the hawks who have Trump’s ear, on Friday called the proposal from Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) “preposterous.”
The hardliners, and Republican leaders, are digging in. Democrats have already decided that now is the time to force the DACA issue. The government won’t reopen until one side feels the squeeze — and blinks.
The blame game, however, has already begun. The White House is coined this the “Schumer shutdown.”
As for Schumer, he says only Trump is responsible: “This will be called the Trump shutdown.”