BY GRANT BONHAM
During the weekend of Jan. 20, the government ran out of money and briefly shut down until the following Monday, showcasing the turmoil and gridlock in the Republican majority Congress. But the issue was quickly resolved and Democrats, who needed to give over nine senate votes for a budget to be passed, conceded to give funding to the government until Feb. 8 in exchange for some smaller, yet impactful, political concessions from Republicans. What’s mystifying is the public reaction to this “caving” by senate Democrats, and the signaling of a defeat for the Democratic party on the upcoming budget. The Republicans, who were holding a popular part of immigration hostage, have now been cornered, and have very little party unity on their side to dictate the talks on immigration or budget spending. Democrats have made strides on popular children’s healthcare funding, have squarely showed Republicans what they want, and are fighting for a program that has high national support. The most important aspects of this situation are who won in the most recent negotiations, why the Democrats allowed for funding across the next couple weeks, and where things will go from here. Most of the Democratic success or failure will be determined in the coming weeks, but leveraging their congressional minority to dictate these talks has been more successful than expected.
During the most recent budget and spending negotiations, Democrats have been fighting consistently for the untouched funding and passage of the Child’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA). These two pieces of legislation are both very popular across the country but are under threat from different angles by the Republican Party. Since its passage, CHIP has granted insurance to children all across the country, successfully cutting the childhood insurance rate in half. But, under the most recent budget negotiations, cuts to Obamacare and Medicare have made CHIP a hostage. Democrats won the battle, ensuring the program will have untouched funding for the next six years, but there is more at stake.
DACA has now become the cornerstone of the government funding debate and Democrats have made themselves clear: they want an immigration bill that will keep protections in place for DACA recipients. DACA insures that children of undocumented immigrants who arrive in the U.S. under the age of 16 with no immigration documents, will be given protections against deportation if they attended and graduated high school. This program has proven to be incredibly beneficial to those who are eligible, decreasing poverty rates, while increasing wages, alongside high school and college graduation rates for those in the program. While there are no demonstrable long-term negative consequences of the program, Republicans like Donald Trump or David Duke consistently attack the program with baseless accusations against broader groups of immigrants or through a heavily bigoted lens. Even though 86 percent of voters support this program, President Trump and senate Republicans continue to fight against immigration reform, and, in the broader context, for their whiter xenophobic constituents.
Given the gravity of DACA, the Democrats caving after the shutdown seemed like a large defeat for the most avid activists and supporters. This criticism should be short-lived, as Democrats still have the upper hand in the debate. Since 2001, Democrats have fought time and time again to get comprehensive immigration reform, but Republicans have regularly stopped any progress from being made. Republicans have consistently blocked legal immigration reform, and will continue to, so they can peddle the same hardlined approach against undocumented immigrants that gives their xenophobic, racist policy a legal framework. If Republicans were concerned with the individuals, or the legality and safety of these hard working Americans, DACA would be an easy pass. Instead, by broadening the scope of who they call “illegal” and therefore target with deportations, they are encouraging their white, racist base that views deportations as an effective way to ensure their safety and their jobs. The New Democrats who gave the government funding for 19 days hardly committed to the hate Republicans have instilled in their voters and, instead, made immigration debates the focus of Congress. They conceded for a couple days, but defended CHIP and did not give up on DREAMers.
The real debate will occur within the next couple weeks. The popularity of DACA, paired with the need for Republicans to legitimize their position as statesmen, will force their hand. The Democrats have done a good job at making Republicans budge on such an important issue. Those on the left, especially DACA recipients, were justified in their initial aggression towards Democrats who voted “yes” on the budget resolution. Their entire lives are at stake. For DACA recipients, anything less than the total passage of DACA would mean they could lose everything. But time will tell how far Democrats are willing to take the fight. As it stands now, long-term criticisms of those who voted “yes” on the resolution should be reserved for when more permanent action will be taken.