Whatever its place in manufacturing on the world stage, let it never be said that the United States lags in the production of artificial government crises. This week’s shutdown was a manufactured crises. So was the reversal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA that precipitated it. And frankly, so is Washington’s repeated failure to pass a budget. All concocted right inside the Capital Beltway. The federal government is in the hands of “idiots,” Sen. John Neely Kennedy recently observed, and we can’t imagine there are many Americans, Democratic, Republican or independent, who would disagree.
Here’s what Americans learned from the last government shutdowns: They are costly debacles that accomplish little but to reduce public faith in at least two of the three branches of government. When the Republican Congress shut down the federal government for 16 days in 2013 in a vain attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act, we called it a hostage situation. When there was standoff between a GOP-controlled Congress and President Bill Clinton 22 years ago that furloughed workers even longer, we were just as repulsed. Sorry, Democrats, but just because helping Dreamers is a cause we support doesn’t make us consider the shuttering of non-essential government services an appropriate negotiating tactic. We expect most voters agree.
What the Democrats accomplished by their weekend of obstinacy was to shorten the next budget extension to a Feb. 8 expiration and ensure a Senate floor debate on immigration and DACA. Woop-dee-doo. That’s a high price for a pretty small piece of real estate. And Republicans should be even more embarrassed. Everyone knew the GOP was split down the middle on immigration. DACA may have been an imperfect solution to the challenge of dealing with the sons and daughters of undocumented immigrants — youngsters who in many cases have known no other country but this one — but reversing President Barack Obama’s 2012 policy was an invitation to disaster.
A lot has transpired in recent days that’s just downright shameful. President Donald Trump, who portrays himself as a master negotiator but famously supported the 2013 shutdown against Obamacare, has become what Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer described as a “Jell-O” president seemingly willing to compromise — until his ultra-conservative staff (particularly Stephen Miller) steer him elsewhere. Or is it the reverse? According to an upcoming book by a Fox News host, some staffers insist Mr. Trump has a “defiance disorder” that causes him to reject whatever his staff most strongly advises him to do.
But what’s truly repugnant is the rhetoric coming from the far-right about Dreamers. Rather than acknowledge that something reasonable needs to be done about young people who have no serious criminal offenses on their records, who in most cases received their K-12 education in the United States and are willing, ready and able to hold jobs and be productive members of society, there’s been a lot of ugly talk about how the government shutdown hurts the military (an essential service that isn’t that much affected) at the behest of foreigners. That not just grossly mischaracterizes the situation, it’s an invitation to bigotry and xenophobia.
Last week, a 39-year-old landscaper who was head of a family of four in suburban Detroit, Jorge Garcia, was deported to Mexico after nearly three decades of living in the United States. His wife and adolescent children are bereft. What did it accomplish? He was too old to qualify for DACA. He had worked for years to try to get legal status. Why go after such individuals? Why not set the focus of immigration agents on actual criminals?
These are the kind of people at the heart of the debate. Individuals who enrich the United States. Senate Democrats have reportedly offered to make all kinds of concessions to help the Dreamers, from financing the foolish border wall to placing limits on future immigration. Polls show DACA has broad, bipartisan support by the public and elected leaders. Yet does anyone believe that even if a legislative remedy is produced by Senate moderates and passes the full chamber by a veto-proof majority that the GOP-controlled House will support it? Isn’t that why immigration reform has always failed in the past?
Welcome to 2018, the year of gridlock on a monumental scale. Congress has been gridlocked before, of course, but never with such an incompetent leader and minions in the White House. Immigration reform is just the first difficult issue to discombobulate this crew. Government funding and the debt ceiling, infrastructure spending, trade pacts, foreign policy and the national debt are going to similarly overwhelm those trapped in the polarized, and confused, corridors of power. Nobody wins under these conditions, everybody loses. People like Mr. Garcia are simply first in line.
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