The government shutdown is ridiculous

As you surely know, Congress and the president failed yesterday to create a budget despite a near-consensus on what the final result should be. Here’s all they have to do:

  • Fund the government at something like last year’s level, with some increases for defense and domestic spending to address increased needs.
  • Fix the DACA problem Trump created
  • Fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that enjoys bipartisan support and actually saves a little money because without it spending on other programs would automatically go up.

That’s it. Disagreements over details can be solved by compromises.

Here’s some background:

Prior to 1976, the U.S. budget year ran from July through the following June. This gave Congress half of a year develop a spending plan and allocate funds. Sometimes that got a little tight, so starting in 1976 the start of the budget (or “fiscal”) year was delayed until October 1, giving Congress an additional three months. That ought to be enough, but apparently it isn’t. In recent years the budget has not been finalized until sometime past October 1, and in the meantime Congress passes so-called “continuing resolutions” (CRs) to keep spending going at more or less the previous years’ levels until a final budget could be worked out.

Several CRs have been passed since the fall of 2017 and there’s still no budget in sight. The latest CR failed when five Republican senators voted against cloture to block a filibuster: Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mike Lee of Utah, and Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, both of Kentucky. There are only 51 Republicans in the Senate, and Senator McCain is away getting medical treatment in Arizona. Senator McConnell, the Majority Leader, didn’t actually oppose the CR but voted against if for parliamentary reasons. Graham and others have said that it’s time to stop passing CRs and do a budget, since the sides are close enough together that it shouldn’t be hard.

The supposed major bone of contention is doing something about so-called Dreamers (as in “the American Dream”) — people illegally brought to the U.S. as children, who have lived here for many years, and for the most part are in school or have jobs and clean records. It wasn’t their fault they were brought here and the U.S. is their home. It makes little sense to send them to a country they barely remember, if at all, especially when they’ve been educated at American expense and are now paying taxes (or about to start) and contributing to the U.S. economy. Opinion polls show strong support for letting them remain and apply for citizenship. President Trump has said he wants them to remain. Senators Graham and Durbin, along with Minority Leader Schumer and others, worked out a compromise that gave the Republicans pretty much everything they wanted: No citizenship for the parents of Dreamers and no “chain migration” for their relatives, and on top of that funding for Trump’s border wall. But this offer was rejected by Trump for no clear reason.

The other part of the bill is funding for CHIP. That program has bipartisan support, and it turns out that not funding it would end up costing the government more because most of the children in question would end up with other forms of insurance that actually cost the government more.

This is just ridiculous. Republicans should accept the Graham-Durbin-Schumer-et-al proposal (which actually gives them everything they asked for) and CHIP and at the very least pass a continuing resolution even if they can’t get together on the current year’s budget details.

This is silly.

Update 2018 January 24: I previously credited Senators Graham and Schumer with a compromise immigration proposal, leaving out Dick Durbin and others involved. I’ve corrected that above. Also, the government is temporarily back open under a compromise that funds CHIP for six years and promises a Senate vote on an immigration proposal in the next couple of weeks. If Senator McConnell fails to fulfill his promise on an immigration bill (as he has failed to fulfill promises to several of his fellow Republicans in order to get their votes on the tax bill), the Democrats have leverage to demand attention to the Dreamers matter in February.

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