Here’s Another Fine Mess They’ve Gotten Us Into

Posted January 18, 2018 10:31 p.m. EST

Once again, Americans are being treated to a Capitol Hill cliffhanger over a government shutdown. The themes and plot twists differ each time, but this is a formulaic drama that reveals Congress’ bipartisan failure to perform its most basic task: to fund the federal government.

This battle isn’t over the 2018 budget; lawmakers haven’t gotten there yet. It’s a fight over short-term legislation to extend current funding levels and avert a government shutdown at midnight on Friday.

One could almost — but not really — feel sorry for Republicans. This is a mess President Donald Trump created, and Republicans are tiptoeing around him trying to fashion a temporary fix that he won’t demolish with a tantrum or a tweet.

In September Trump abruptly decided he’d be ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought illegally to this nation as children from deportation. The president has lately been demanding billions of dollars for a wasteful wall along the Mexican border — you know, the one Mexico was supposed to pay for — as a price for a measure that allows these young people, known as Dreamers, to remain here.

Since he ended the program for young immigrants, Trump has been saying he wants to help them through congressional action, but now he has effectively taken them hostage.

Last week, Democrats and Republicans were nearing a budget deal that would protect the Dreamers, increase spending for the military, as Republicans wanted, and make proportional increases in nonmilitary programs, as Democrats wanted. But when they presented the contours of that deal to Trump last week, he rejected it as too welcoming toward immigrants, particularly those from “shithole countries” (or “shithouse countries” in the version insisted upon — we kid you not — by Trump’s defenders).

With funding for the government about to run out, Republicans pushed this week for a one-month stopgap spending bill to keep the government open until mid-February, while they try to divine what would make the president happy on the rest. Republicans are trying to buy Democratic votes by attaching a six-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, but so far the ploy hasn’t worked. Thus the impasse.

On Thursday, as Republicans tried to sell the one-month funding extension, Trump again tipped over the table. Though he’d indicated he was on board with a short-term funding deal that includes a CHIP extension, on Thursday morning he tweeted, “CHIP should be part of a long-term solution, not a 30 Day, or short term, extension!”

That produced a rare bipartisan moment, albeit of shared confusion. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in frustration that it was impossible to negotiate without a “reliable partner” in the White House.

The House speaker, Paul Ryan, and the White House tried to say Trump didn’t really mean what he tweeted about CHIP. But Democrats dug in. While a 30-day funding extension passed the House on Thursday evening, it looks set to fail in the Senate.

A government shutdown is not political strategy — it is calamitous evidence of bipartisan dysfunction, and, in this case, chaotic and cruel directives from the White House. Both sides should buy themselves whatever time they need to reach a broader budget deal that protects young unauthorized immigrants without punishing Americans with another shutdown. Congress should send the president a credible budget and demand that he sign it.

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