Zach Steensma—Staff Writer
Saturday, Jan. 20, marked the one-year anniversary of the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States. But whatever amount of attention that anniversary would have garnered was shrouded by a different branch of the federal government: the legislative branch.
At 12:00am EST, the U.S. government officially shut down after a failure to pass legislation for the funding of various government agencies.
Before the shutdown, disputes arose over a number of programs and policies, perhaps the biggest (in terms of media attention) being the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy.
The shutdown started after Senate Democrats started a filibuster with hopes for an extension of DACA, which allows children of illegal immigrants or those who illegally enter the U.S. as minors to avoid deportation and obtain work permits.
“[DACA] reflects a fundamental divide in American society between those who embrace an immigration philosophy of assimilation and border control, versus those who support diversity and an open border,” said Dordt Political Science professor Dr. Jeff Taylor regarding the issue. “A majority of Americans lean toward the first philosophy, although many are willing to back some sort of amnesty for those here illegally, provided the border is controlled, including the Wall.”
DACA was established in 2012 under the Obama administration, as a replacement for the failed Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which addressed similar issues. President Trump officially rescinded the policy earlier this year.
During the shutdown, blame was widespread and inconsistent. President Trump, in a number of tweets, pointed the finger at Democrats for starting the filibuster and causing the shutdown. Republicans blamed Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for failing to negotiate a resolution, with the hashtag #SchumerShutdown trending on twitter, alongside the popular #TrumpShutdown hashtag pushed by the Democrats, who criticized the Republicans for failing to pass legislation with a majority control of the Federal Government.
So, who really is to blame for the Government shutdown? The Republican majority or the Democratic minority? As it turns out, the answer is not so simple.
“The Republicans have a majority in the Senate, but just a bare majority,” Taylor pointed out. “Nowadays, the minority in the Senate doesn’t even have to do a filibuster; all they have to do is threaten a filibuster and it keeps from the majority from moving ahead unless they have the 60-vote supermajority lined up.”
The shutdown lasted for around two days until the following Monday, when a vote was taken to end the shutdown and approve temporary funding.
“Personally, I think [the filibuster’s] a poor system on two counts,” Taylor said. “First, the practice of filibuster is not found in the Constitution. It is a longstanding Senate tradition, but if it were up to me, I would abolish it. Second, the majority rolls over too easily. If Democrats threaten to filibuster, then they should be forced to actually do it.”
In addition to the filibuster, policies like DACA (and stances on the larger issue of immigration) do not always neatly fall between party lines. To Taylor, the issue of immigration is a perfect example of the hidden complexity of the two-party system.
“Not all Republicans want a secure southern border. With the exception of President Trump, the GOP leadership in DC likes the status quo because it provides cheap labor and undercuts the possibility of unionization. This reflects an underlying commitment to their big-business funders, even though it goes against the wishes of their party’s conservative grassroots base,” said Taylor. “Democrats use humanitarian rhetoric in support of the Dream Act and comprehensive immigration reform, but corporate-funding and partisan-advantage motivations are also in play with party leaders.”
At the end of the day, government shutdowns “tend to be relatively minor in consequence,” according to Taylor. “They draw lots of media attention and partisan huffing-and-puffing, but average Americans, including the military, see little impact before a compromise in DC ends the shutdowns.”
Perhaps instead of panicking over shutdowns, Americans should take a closer look at the underlying issues behind them, including ethical issues surrounding lobbying and corporate funding.
“The federal budget process is dishonest and shoddy even under the best circumstances,” notes Taylor. “It’s no way to run a government, but neither party seems interested in changing the system.”