A looming government shutdown
White House officials were negotiating with congressional leaders from both parties this week to head off a possible government shutdown, amid sharp disagreements over spending caps, protections for young undocumented immigrants, and funding for children’s health care. Having passed a stopgap measure in December, Congress now has until Jan. 19 to pass a bill keeping the government funded. Republicans will need Democratic votes to pass a spending bill, but concessions to their policy demands could alienate conservative lawmakers. Democrats say they will back a spending bill only if it reinstates the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), established by former President Obama to exempt from deportation undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children. President Trump scrapped the program in September; Congress has until March to decide whether it will be made permanent through legislation. In other key issues, there is bipartisan support—but disagreement over the numbers—for lifting spending caps imposed in 2011, refunding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and providing disaster relief funds for communities ravaged by hurricanes and wildfires last year.
After the battle over funding the government is settled, Republican leaders face decisions on their legislative priorities for the year ahead. House Speaker Paul Ryan said before Christmas he wanted to focus on welfare and entitlement reform, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed strong reservations about making unpopular cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and other social programs in an election year. The president, meanwhile, has set his sights on an infrastructure bill to rebuild roads and bridges, saying he “really believes” the measure could be bipartisan.
What the editorials said
Republicans ended 2017 “in a mood of undeserved triumph” over their fiscally irresponsible tax cut, said The Washington Post. Even McConnell admitted that the GOP’s agenda last year was “pretty partisan.” The big question in 2018 is whether Republicans will “continue trying to govern on behalf of the third of the country furthest to the right, or will leaders chart a better direction?” If Republicans and Democrats have any consciences, said the New York Daily News, they will quickly work together to give DACA kids legal status. Over the past year, the 800,000 “Dreamers” covered by the program have had their hopes raised and then “cruelly dashed” as Trump first promised they had “nothing to worry about”—and then reneged by rescinding the program so they could be used as hostages over border-wall funding. For the Dreamers, this continuing “limbo” must be torturous.
What the columnists said
DACA is definitely the issue “most likely to snarl spending negotiations,” said Ed Kilgore in NYMag.com. Democrats are willing to trade protection for Dreamers in exchange for increased funding for border control—but not for a border wall. If Trump insists on his wall, a government shutdown is likely.
Republicans will get little done this year without bipartisan support, said Carl Hulse in The New York Times. Doug Jones’ unexpected win in Alabama has reduced their Senate majority to a razor-thin 51-49, and they want to “present themselves as reasonable and responsible” legislators going into November’s midterms. But GOP lawmakers also cannot afford to alienate their conservative base, whose votes “they will need to survive the midterm elections with minimal damage.” Likewise, Democrats know that cooperating with Republicans will anger their anti-Trump base. With “political risks” for both sides, bipartisanship may be “an unattainable goal.”
Democrats have signaled a willingness to work with Trump on infrastructure, said Kimberly Atkins in the Boston Herald. But White House officials say their proposal will involve only $200 billion, not the “$1 trillion Trump promised on the campaign trail.” A bill that modest would generate little Democratic enthusiasm. With Ryan and McConnell divided over what to prioritize—welfare reform, infrastructure, or even another attempt at Obamacare repeal—“the decision is probably Trump’s to make,” said Russell Berman in TheAtlantic.com. GOP lawmakers learned during the push for tax reform that they could “steer policy in their direction” by lobbying Trump directly or through appearances on Fox News. The next few weeks will be “a battle for the president’s ear.”