One 3-Week Step Forward (Jan. 22)

Update 244 — One 3-Week Step Forward:
Dreamers Live to See Another Deadline, Feb. 8

Closing one of the shortest government shutdowns in memory, the Senate voted 81-18 vote to end debate on a stopgap FY 18 funding measure expiring February 8.

Minority Leader Schumer extracted a concession from GOP Leader Mitch McConnell: a legislative agreement regarding action on a DACA bill in exchange for Schumer’s support for the spending package. Once the Senate approves it, the House is expected to pass the bill in short order with the President likely signing the CR into law tonight.

How did the deal come to pass and who holds the upper hand in the next budget round?  See below.




Specifics of the Deal

In negotiating this short-term extension, Senators continue to comply with Budget Control Act caps as toplines:

  • $549 billion for defense spending
  • $516 billion for nondefense discretionary

Both of these caps are set to increase by a combined $160 billion by 2021. Defense spending caps increase to $562 billion in 2019, $576 billion in 2020, and $591 billion in 2021. Non-defense discretionary spending caps increase to  $529 billion in 2019, $542 billion in 2020, and $555 billion in 2021.

The package is identical to the previous FY 18 CR extensions, except that it includes a CHIP funding deal.  Where a DACA package will be negotiated on its own, the stopgap spending deal includes a six year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program. 1.9 million children in 25 states would have lost CHIP benefits had this arrangement not been reached before Feb. 1.

Impact of the Shutdown

Past shutdowns have cost the economy billions of dollars per day when furloughed government workers and contractors were forced to stay home and miss out on paychecks. This time around, the impact was relatively limited by a shutdown that primarily spanned the weekend.  With only one work day lost, stock markets barely blinked and economic losses will be minimal.

Democrats’ Position

Democrats kept their promise to not vote for a long-term funding measure without protecting Dreamers and won six years of CHIP funding to provide vitally important children’s health coverage, giving up nothing. Sen. Schumer also secured greater leverage, forcing McConnell into a promise to address DACA relief on the floor in advance of the next funding deadline.

Sen. McConnell’s promise, on the congressional record, that he will bring an immigration bill to the floor and allow for an open amendment process, means that Schumer extracted more explicit concessions from his Republican counterpart without having to give anything up. Sen. McConnell now faces the unenviable task of having to develop an immigration solution or risk going back on his word and facing another government shutdown.

Most significantly, the deal allows Sen. Schumer to keep his caucus united while putting pressure on an already factious Republican majority.  Several prominent Democrats eyeing a 2020 presidential bid, including Sens. Harris, Gillibrand, Booker, Sanders, Murphy, and Warren voted against this bill in support of the Dreamers.

Republicans’ Position

Since Trump assumed office, the GOP has repeatedly been foiled by its own internal divisions. This weekend’s shutdown made it abundantly clear that the majority party is struggling to perform the most fundamental tasks of governing, adopting a budget. Despite Republican leadership’s attempts to paint the fiasco as “Schumer’s shutdown,” polls revealed that most of the country blames the party in control of the House, the Senate, and the White House for the shuttered government.

This weekend’s split pitted moderate Republicans who had previously expressed interest in finding a resolution to the DACA debacle against against immigration hardliners. The moderates, lead by “gang of six” Sens. Flake, Graham, and Gardner, had thrown their support behind a bipartisan DACA deal only to have it infamously blow up in the Oval Office.

Other Republicans are clearly less eager for a DACA fix. Last Friday, many Republicans were quick to frame the shutdown as an example of Democrats choosing “illegals” over children when Democrats voted down the House CR that contained six years of CHIP funding but made no mention of DACA.

Trump’s absence

President Trump had already gone to sleep by the time the shutdown occurred on Friday at midnight. Other than a Tweet calling for Republicans to “go nuclear” and change the Senate rules allowing spending bills to pass with only 50 votes, he played no real part in negotiations over the rest of the weekend.  The President did meet with Sen. Schumer on Friday at the behest of Sen. McConnell, but that conversation ended up at square one, with Trump telling Schumer to work it out with McConnell. In the end, Trump had little to to do with negotiating and drafting the bill.

Why Schumer Came Out On Top

DACA protections run out on March 5, now that CHIP funding has been secured and McConnell is on the record saying that he will begin a “neutral and fair” legislative process Democrats can go into the new Feb. 8 deadline resolute in their goal to protect the Dreamers.

Shutdowns often result in a blame game as motives are questioned and accusations of bad faith abound. Democrats needn’t fear that as they have made a simple demand that Republicans have acknowledged. Mitch McConnell has made and broken promises like this in the past, including the one he made to Sen. Flake in exchange for his vote on the tax bill.  If Sen. McConnell either tries to exclude Democrats from the process, pass a watered-down or poison-pill ridden bill, or renege completely Democrats will not refrain from shutting the government down again.

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