President Donald J. Trump meets with White House senior staff members Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Marc Short, Hope Hicks, Jessica Ditto, Hogan Gidley, Dan Scavino, Raj Shah, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Rob Porter, Mick Mulvaney and Lindsay Walters, in the We

Why the shutdown? Political Analyst Richard Wagner considers the partisan conflicts that lead to the current government shutdown.

Most have heard by now that the one big issue standing in the way of a continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown – is DACA.  

If you have a general understanding of Federal politics, you probably know that government shutdowns are the result of an inability of Congress and the President to approve funding.  Hence, it’s a budget issue.  So there you may ask – What does DACA have to do with the budget?  DACA, after all, was an Executive Order by President Obama to defer deportation of undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children (so long as they are otherwise law-abiding of course.)  

First, it should be noted that the continuing resolution actually would have had enough Senate votes to pass (50 + the Vice President), but since the Bush era, we live in an age where the filibuster has become almost routine.  That is, the Senate can’t actually vote on a bill until the floor debate is over.

 The only way to end the debate is to achieve “cloture”, which requires 60 of the 100 Senators (and this does not include the Vice President. ) Consequently, the continuing resolution has not officially come up for a vote in the Senate.  This practice in the Senate has become so routine, that most media sources don’t even describe it accurately anymore.  They simply state that the Senate failed to get the needed 60 votes to pass.

How partisan is this issue?

It’s worth noting that the votes in the Senate were not straight down party lines.  There were 5 Republican Senators who voted against the continuing resolution (and consequently for the shutdown), and 5 Democrats who voted along with Trump in favor of the continuing resolution.

Among the “Nay” Republicans was that renegade from Kentucky who entered the Senate on the Tea Party wave of 2010, Sen. Rand Paul.  Paul has proven time and again to be a consistent budget hawk, determined to put the US on the path to a balanced budget.  He’s reasonable enough to not demand that the government balance the budget today, or this year, but he wants to see a plan to steadily reduce the deficit and get to a balanced budget over time.  He has stated in the past that he’d work with either party to accomplish this goal.  As the current budget proposals only add to the deficit, Rand Paul, on principle, will not support them.

Among the “Yay” votes on the Democratic side is the recently elected Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama.  It would seem that Trump was wrong about Doug Jones being a “puppet” of the DNC.  Jones went against the majority of his party by supporting the continuing resolution.

For Sen. Jones, the main reason was CHIP funding.  This program is absolutely crucial in a state like Alabama, with so many impoverished children who depend on this for their healthcare needs.  As Jones ran as a unifying figure who would focus on Alabama’s needs and didn’t spend much time trying to be a “referendum on Trump”, it should come as no surprise that he’ll work with Trump when it supports a program that’s important to his constituents.

Who to blame for the shutdown?

Despite some party dissidence, the majorities of the parties are clear.  The Republicans mostly voted for the continuing resolution, and the Democrats mostly against.  The Democrats have demanded that for DREAMers (currently under DACA which is set to expire about 3 months from now) be included in this resolution.  Based on that, many Republicans, including Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are accusing the Democrats of holding the government hostage to get their way on an unrelated issue.  They hope that voters will blame the Democrats for the shutdown and that this will increase the leverage of Republicans in future negotiations.

However, it should be noted that DACA is widely popular, and Trump is not.   Even 60% of Trump’s supporters, support allowing DACA recipients to stay in the country, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll.  Meanwhile, Trump’s approval ratings remain in the high thirties.  

Despite this, it isn’t as though Congressional Democrats are widely popular, and it’s hard to determine upon whom the blame for this shutdown will fall.  Furthermore, this situation can’t be explained as simply as “Trump vs. DACA”.  Trump has stated that he does want a permanent solution and expressed the possibility of supporting even the DREAM Act if that is combined with border wall funding and much tighter border security.  

According to Sen. Chuck Schumer, however, Trump was actually offered this.  “The President said many times he would take a deal that included DACA in exchange for the wall.  I put that deal on the table.  Maybe time will reveal whether or not this is true.  

Yet according to Vice President Pence, “Our administration worked in good faith to put a bipartisan deal on the table that would strengthen our borders, end chain migration, eliminate the visa lottery, and deal compassionately with DACA. But rather than solve problems, Democratic leadership preferred a shutdown that has dangerous consequences for our national defense.”

They Agree, Yet…Shutdown

Both sides, therefore, seem to agree on a policy compromise.  The Democrats say they’re willing to support Trump’s border security measures in exchange for a permanent solution to DACA, and the Republicans say they’ll give the Democrats DACA in exchange for the tougher border security.  Yet, here we are.

They officially agree on policy, but each accuses the other of not agreeing to what they both say they’ve agreed to.  

This is the new normal in 21st Century American government.  Obstruct, sabotage, blame and win the next election on a wave and voter indignation.  There are no long-term solutions, very few landmark pieces of legislation, and no balanced budget in sight.  

Even with a booming economy, the government is so dysfunctional that so focused on short-term electoral politics that they can’t make the “hard decisions” needed to pass a responsible budget that actually gets us to a balanced budget and thereby stops adding to the over $20 trillion National Debt.  Any budget at all seems to be the best we can hope for.

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Richard Wagner is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Florida State College at Jacksonville. He conducts independent study on the American conservative movement and foreign policy. When he is...

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