When things are going wrong, assigning blame is often unproductive. But not always. Veracity and candor forbid us to ignore the question of who is responsible for the government shutting down.
It matters because Republicans, being inept at communications, usually allow Democrats to frame it as entirely the GOP's fault. It needs to be said that there are two culprits on this occasion. Most of the blame must go to Senate Democrats because of their excessive and unrelated demands. Some blame also attaches to President Trump, for his poor grasp of both principle and detail, which leads him to flip-flop on policy.
In all government shutdowns, one can logically blame either side. Republicans could keep the government open by capitulating to the minority Democrats and giving them whatever they want. Democrats could keep the government open by dropping their filibuster and allowing a vote.
If this were merely a matter of funding levels, it would be a tough case to adjudicate. But it’s not. The disagreement has nothing to do with the core of the bill, which is appropriations to fund the government. The disagreement is over the fact that Democrats obdurately demand the addition of two non-germane policy riders as their price for keeping the government open. Republicans are only willing to grant one of the two.
The bill to fund the government is called a “continuing resolution,” because it continues current funding levels for the next month. It is an appropriations bill, a type of legislation specifically described in the Constitution. Appropriations bills literally spend money, in contrast to authorization bills, which instead create the policy framework in which spending happens.
In this case, Democrats wanted the continuing resolution to include a policy rider reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Plan for six more years. But that isn’t an appropriations measure; it’s a six-year authorization. Even so, Republicans have agreed to this add-on.
But for Democrats, even that stretch isn't enough. They also want to pass an immigration reform law as part of this spending bill. Specifically, they demand permanent acceptance of illegal immigrants who entered the country as children and have not committed felonies. This would make former President Barack Obama’s temporary DACA policy permanent.
Republicans want DACA reform, which is an immigration policy, to be included in an actual immigration deal.
So, Democrats are demanding a non-germane policy provision, and won’t vote to keep the government open unless they get it. It seems reasonable that the side demanding non-germane riders on a spending bill to keep the government running, and blocking an up-or-down vote on it, are the ones shutting down the government.
Democrats won't allow the Department of Health and Human Services (or any other department) to remain fully operational unless they get their immigration reform first.
Some Republicans are also demanding a DACA fix, so what is clear is that DACA advocates are shutting down the government to gain leverage for their unrelated policy.
President Trump doesn’t escape blame. Talking about s—thole or s—thouse countries and shifting his demands on immigration from one thing to another is what got us here. The president said he was willing to accept bad deals early on, and then didn’t correct his course until late in the game, thus bringing us to the brink of shutdown.
Trump, a year in, still lacks mouth control. He keeps blowing himself up. He still lacks the ability to engage meaningfully in debate on policy. But without it, he cannot cut deals that make sense, or keep them once they are agreed.
We don’t expect a lengthy government shutdown, and we never shared the apocalyptic view of what such a hiatus means. Still, it’s important to remember who’s brought us to this pass. It is the party demanding non-spending be attached to a spending bill, and a president who refuses to master the details for which everyone else looks to him for leadership.