The government might shut down at midnight on Friday unless Democrats and Republicans can come to an agreement on a border wall, on childhood illegal immigrants, and even on federal subsidies for poor kids’ health insurance.
This is an exceedingly dumb way to govern.
For this entire decade, Congress has been governing by shutdown threat. There is no regular appropriations process anymore. Instead, Congress keeps the government funded with serial “continuing resolutions,” which are supposed to be short-term patches until real appropriations bills can pass. But of course, those real appropriations bills never pass, and so, again and again, Congress walks up to the precipice of a shutdown.
Bipartisanship has died almost entirely. Both parties see huge political gain in defeating and rejecting and lambasting the other party’s proposals, making it too politically costly to cut deals with the other party’s leaders. The result: the only opportunity to pass any legislation is to tack it on to must-pass temporary spending bills.
If you don’t like the legislative rider attached to the bill, then your choice is either to cast a vote for a program you hate or to shut down the government. This is not what old-fashioned compromise and deal-making look like. We’ve repeatedly endorsed a bipartisan deal on immigration: a permanent fix on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (immigrants brought in illegally as minors) in exchange for funding for the wall and other border security measures. There’s no good reason to stick any of this in a must-pass spending bill, as Democrats (so they claim) already have plenty of incentive to pass it.
Similarly, Republicans and Democrats can come to a deal on renewing the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. This program provides a federal subsidy for the health insurance of children in poor families. Democrats say they desperately want to renew CHIP, and Republicans can get something in return: maybe a small reform of Obamacare, or provisions narrowing the subsidy to poor children, as currently young adults from middle-class families are eligible in some cases.
An open floor debate on these measures, including (gasp) difficult amendment votes would restore the deliberative and collaborative role of Congress. But party leaders prefer backroom deals presented to the rank and file on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. And that’s not good government, it’s not democratic, and it’s not conservative.
So what should Republicans do instead? Start by passing a clean and long-term CR to prevent a government shutdown. Then immediately take up separate bills on DACA and CHIP, with open robust debate.
Then return to the appropriations mess. Congress could pass permanent legislation to make government shutdowns less disruptive, a move that could dampen leadership’s ability to play that card. After that, Congress could start an orderly and open regular-order process for fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1.
There's enough chaos in life already that Congress doesn't need to make things worse. It's time for Washington to get hold of its priorities, re-learn how to deal with the opposition, and stop governing by crisis.