In October of 2013 the Republicans, who enjoyed a majority in the House of Representatives, essentially shut down the US Government for 17 days. At the time I believed that it one of the most stupid political moves that I had seen in my rather long lifetime. Now I have come to the difficult conclusion that Senate Democrats should come forward with genuine threat to shut down the government again if necessary. I can totally understand if you think those two stances are inconsistent at best or totally disingenuous at worst, but let me explain.
In 2013 the Republican controlled House and the Democratic controlled Senate could not agree on the language of Continuing Appropriations Resolution which was necessary to provide funding to keep the government running. As result of the impasse, funding dried up and 800,000 federal employees were furloughed indefinitely while another 1.3 million had to report to work without knowing when or if they would ever be paid. All “non-essential” federal government services were discontinued from October 1st through October 17th. Eventually Republicans relented with 86 of their 231 Representatives joining all 198 Democrats to pass the unencumbered bill in the House.
That government shutdown was an unmitigated disaster, but let’s remember why that disaster occurred. Back 2013 it was Senator Ted Cruz and conservative groups like Heritage Action that encouraged House Republicans to include language in government funding bill which would have defunded the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The Republican majority in the House passed the bill with the Obamacare defunding language and sent on to the Senate. The Senate then stripped the bill of that language and passed the bill without it. The day before funding for the government was set to run out, the Republicans in the House stubbornly reinserted the Obamacare defunding language and passed the bill again. Under much pressure from the all sectors, eventually the Republicans relented and 86 of their 231 Representatives joined all 198 Democrats to pass the unencumbered bill in the House. President Obama then signed the bill putting the government back in business.
So four years ago House Republicans shut down government so they could deprive over 13 million Americans of affordable health insurance. Without that insurance some people would have died and many others would have been deprived of preventive and timely medical care which would have prevented their conditions from severely degrading. On the other hand if Democrats threaten to withhold their Senate votes on a government funding bill as the January 19th funding deadline approaches, it will be to protect 800,000 “Dreamers” – individuals who were brought to this country illegally as children through no fault of their own – from deportation. Let’s also remember that it is necessary to enact this DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) legislation only because Donald Trump eliminated protection for the Dreamers previously provided by the Obama administration.
Nor are the Democrats in Congress alone in their determination to protect the Dreamers; 34 Republicans in the House sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan urging him to act immediately on a “permanent legislative solution for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients before the end of the year.” In the Senate, Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced legislation in early December to protect the Dreamers. That bill is co-sponsored by four additional Republican Senators. All of these Republican Congressmen understand the need to be on the “right side” of this issue.
Obviously then there are more than enough Republicans in both the House and the Senate willing to join the with the Democrats in order to pass DACA legislation unencumbered by other political considerations. The problem is that Republicans control both houses of Congress so Republican leaders determine what pieces of legislation comes up for a vote and which do not. They have been unwilling to bring to the floor legislation protecting the Dreamers without extracting concessions on border security from the Democrats. In addition, though Trump continues to talk out of both sides of his mouth, it is apparent that he wants funding for his impractical “wall” in exchange for signing DACA legislation.
While it was the Republicans who shut down the government in 2013 and it is the Democrats who find themselves in the position of threating to do so today, one thing is clear – in both cases the Democrats are chose the correct and just side of the issues. In both cases their only intention is to protect innocent people while the Republicans are callously trying to score political points.
Time is running out for the Dreamers. As early as the end of March they face the possibility of deportation to countries where they have no roots, where the don’t speak the language, where they don’t understand the customs, and where they economic survival would be in doubt. They have grown up with our children, attended our schools, and some are even serving in our military. They are as American as you and me and with our other young people they are the best hope for the future of this country. if it takes standing up to the Donald Trump and the Republican leaders in Congress and threatening to shut down the government to protect them, so be it!
The American people are behind us on this issue. According to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll 73 percent of the voters want legislation protecting Dreamers from deportation while 54 percent of voters want Congress to establish a path to citizenship for DACA recipients. On the other hand, most polls show that the majority of Americans don’t want their tax money used to pay for a wall. (Wasn’t Mexico supposed to pay for it.) Even Congressional Republicans are unenthusiastic about funding a wall. In a recent USA Today poll of all of the members of Congress, only 25% of the Republicans said that they would be willing to vote for even a $1.6 billion down payment on the border wall pitched by Trump during the summer.
So I urge our Democratic Senators and Representatives in Congress to stand fast and do what is right. If it takes compromising on the funding of “border security measures” to protect the Dreamers, that’s okay as long as the legislation makes it abundantly clear that the funding cannot be used in manner to build a “wall”. They need to force the Republicans to include protection for the Dreamers as part of funding bill. Then Trump can decide whether to sign the bill or take the entire responsibility for a government shutdown. In 2013 Republicans used the threat of a government shutdown to try to take away the funding for the health care for millions of American. In my opinion it would be poetic justice for the Congressional Democrats to use a similar threat to protect hundreds of thousands of innocent young people.