Our Very Own Shithole

First, a heartfelt plea: If you have been disgruntled at government for a long time and have not voted or been involved in the political process, I urge you to educate yourself, get registered, and vote. We all deserve a government that actually works, and I am convinced that if we had 80-90% voter turnout, our policy – indeed the very makeup of elected officials – would look very different. And, to be clear, all you new voters do not have to agree with me. I am an unabashed progressive, but I also think I have a reasonable amount of common sense and am willing to compromise. Which brings us to the debacle we witnessed in the hours and days leading up to what is now a shut-down government.

Every time a Continuing Resolution is brought up, I shake my head and say this has to be the last time Congress will resort to some kind of short-term fix that doesn’t really fix anything. Some kind of political nut or another is usually thrown in the CR to get enough votes for it to pass both chambers. This time that nut was CHIP. As important as the DACA issue is to me (and to many of my students), I would have been fine with Democrats kicking the budget can down the road for a few weeks because of the CHIP funding that was contained in this CR, and then digging in the heels in February to ensure a fix to DACA. But I was certainly in the minority among progressives and they chose this moment to draw the line in the sand.

While I was willing to accept the CHIP nut in this CR, I became more and more furious with Republican members of congress as they went on television and spouted their righteous indignation that Democratic members were now putting the livelihood of five million-plus children in grave danger. CHIP expired on September 30. As of this morning, that was 112 days ago. Republicans at any time could have brought up a clean re-authorization of CHIP and it would have easily passed both chambers with plenty of votes from both sides of the aisle. (But they will not do that because groups like the Freedom Caucus refuses to allow the majority of the GOP to even appear bipartisan.) Just after midnight – after the government officially shut down – McConnell spoke about a letter from a bipartisan group of 12 governors urging Congress to re-fund CHIP. What he failed to mention, though, is that letter was sent almost six weeks ago. Where was the sense of urgency on December 12 when that letter was received?

Let’s be clear, though: Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and a goodly chunk of the Republican party doesn’t give a shit about funding CHIP. They put that nut into the CR in hopes of enticing at least nine democratic senators to fund the government for another few weeks. But they couldn’t even secure all votes from their own party – six democratic senators did vote for the CR, but four republican senators did not. I honestly think that if the whip count had shown all 51 republicans were voting for the CR, three other democrats would have jumped ship and supported it. Maybe that’s my own naivete, but thanks to Rand Paul etc, they couldn’t even coalesce their own party around another short-term extension. I know my conservative friends will disagree with me, but I think this gave the democrats cover.

But this whole debate broke down over one thing: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better known as DACA. I am a vocal supporter of DACA, and wrote a post a few months ago about the importance of it, which you can read here. Hard line conservatives throw around terms like ‘rule of law’ and ‘amnesty’, and that is right in line with the strict father model that George Lakoff discusses in his book Don’t Think of an Elephant. They are here illegally, they have to go. They are a health care provider? They are in the military? They have paid taxes, raised a family, been a contributing part of their community? They have to go.

Republicans have said they are willing to discuss sweeping immigration reform, which most democrats, including me, agree should happen. But, like CHIP, there has been ample opportunity for a DACA bill to be presented. Trump himself said he’d sign a fix if a bipartisan deal was reached, so one was proposed by Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin. There were parts of the fix that I didn’t like, and there were parts of the fix that republicans didn’t like, but it was <gasp> a compromise. I was willing to accept more border security funding and a change to the family migration policy in exchange for a protection and a citizenship pathway for DACA recipients. But thanks to folks like Stephen Miller and Tom Cotton, that framework was flatly rejected by Trump, and therefore not even considered on the Senate floor. But let’s be honest – if McConnell and Ryan had had the balls to bring it to the floor of the House and Senate, it would have passed and Trump would have signed it. There is no way he would have taken the political fallout by vetoing a measure that had both democratic and republican sponsors. So while the GOP leaders abdicated final responsibility to Trump, they could have made it happen.

So here we are. I have friends that work for the military that are officially on furlough. I have former students who are active duty who will continue doing their job, even though they may not get paid on time. There are families, church groups or school field trips that planned to visit the Smithsonian or other national parks that will be met with closed gates. Meanwhile, our congressmen will continue collecting their $174,000 annual salary for twiddling their fingers and pointing at each other from across the aisle.

So I will end the same way I began. Call, write, email your congressmen and urge them to compromise (which does not mean ‘the other sides gives us everything and we give them nothing). If you are not yet registered to vote, please do so and educate yourself on the issues. Have constructive debate, willing to hear the other side and truly reach a common middle ground. Let’s bring up a clean CHIP reauthorization, a clean DACA/immigration fix, and a long-term budget resolution so that our military, government agencies and, frankly, the world at large knows that we know how to actually run a country.

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One comment

  1. James, I confess to being one of the ones who is glad that the Democrats did not let the GOP get away with it. And the only reason I support this drastic measure is that the GOP has shown itself not to be an honest player. As you pointed out, a bill could have been presented to Trump but McConnell refuse to do so. These are my own demons. I simply do not trust anything that GOP says. As much as I hate that we may have to operate in the same shoddy way as the GOP, it may be the only language they understand. Like you I am a fervent supporter of DACA and CHIP. I have also lived through several government shutdowns during my tenure at the justice department. They are stupid, unproductive, and costly. I guess my only hope is that the GOP begins to think it will be blamed for this shutdown and do what is right. Indeed, they were responsible for every government shutdown I experienced, starting with Newt Gingrich and his despicable tactics. I’ve gotten old and cynical, James. But I promise you I will votr!

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