THE GOVERNMENT shut down at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. The immediate cause was Senate Democrats refusing to go along with another short-term federal funding extension, and Congress stayed in Washington Saturday in hopes of making the shutdown short-lived. But the underlying problem is GOP dysfunction in both branches of government. This is the first time the government has ever shut down while one party controlled Congress and the White House. Republicans can win elections but they cannot govern effectively.
The impasse centers on two issues that Congress should have solved months ago. First is the fate of the “dreamers” — immigrants brought to the country illegally when they were children — who know the United States as their only home and have integrated into American society. The second is the funding-starved Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which ensures that low-income families can get care for their children. Providing legal protections to the dreamers and re-upping CHIP both command overwhelming support from the public and their representatives in Congress. If congressional leaders had allowed simple up-or-down votes on these questions, lawmakers would have passed mainstream solutions, easily. But they practically ignored CHIP’s funding crisis for months. They also declined to bring a dreamers bill to a vote. This reflected GOP congressional leaders’ spineless practice of suppressing legislation that a majority of Congress supports, in counterproductive deference to their right wing.
After months of inaction, Democrats were understandably incensed. President Trump could have brokered a deal. In fact, he appeared ready to do so earlier this month, when he promised to sign a bipartisan compromise bill on the dreamers, if one were negotiated, and to “take the heat” for doing so. A bipartisan group presented a plan that would have given immigration hard-liners several concessions in return for a dreamers fix. Yet, Mr. Trump betrayed his promise, suddenly siding with the hard-liners who demanded a long list of policy changes in return for extending dreamer protections.
The House offered to extend CHIP funding for six years. But as it became clearer that Democrats were serious about holding up government funding until Congress finally addressed both the dreamers and CHIP, Mr. Trump should have bargained. Instead, even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) complained that the president’s position was unclear. Just hours before federal funding expired, Marc Short, Mr. Trump’s legislative director, insisted that the White House had already offered its plan — which was no compromise at all. In other words, the hard-liners were in control and the president would not compromise — despite his past insistence that he wanted a bipartisan bill to sign.
If GOP leaders had allowed the majority of Congress to work its will, the shutdown might have been avoided. If, when that did not happen, the president had negotiated in good faith, the government would still be open. Forcing a shutdown is a drastic legislative act that should not be welcomed. But neither should Republicans’ unreason and inconsistency. This is no way to run a country.