Who Will Be Blamed For a Government Shutdown?

Government shutdown looming DACA

Immigration has become a major issue for both Democrats and Republicans as a possible government shutdown on January 19 looms large. Democrats are insisting on protections for undocumented childhood arrivals to the US, known as DREAMers, while Republicans want to secure funds for border security without strings attached.

It’s difficult to say who has the political leverage in this fight, and which party would take the most heat if a shutdown were to occur.

Republicans hold power in all three branches of government, so it’s likely they would shoulder a significant amount of the blame if a government shutdown occurred. Plus, it will be hard for Republicans to escape the fact that Trump has previously tweeted his support for a future government shutdown.

Democrats have considerable bargaining power in the debate, but that power also comes with a measure of responsibility. Sixty votes are needed to pass the spending bill and Republicans hold a slim majority (51-49) in the Senate. With nine Democratic votes needed to reach the 60 vote threshold, Democrats could opt to hold out indefinitely for DREAMer protections, causing a shutdown and its attendant political risks.

However, filibustering is always a troublesome business, and Democrats do not want to stick their necks out too far right now. The opportunity for a crushing sweep in the 2018 midterms is on the horizon and Democrats do not want to be dogged by criticism for shutting down the government solely for DREAMers, a group that represents a minuscule percentage of their constituency.

The party knows that protections for DREAMers is a very popular cause among progressive Democrats, and a failure to deliver on the promise of protection could spark a fierce outcry from the left. The Democratic Party has been harshly criticized for cozying up to DREAMers to win elections, while failing to produce any legislation that protects them since the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals Act was first introduced in 2001.

Former Obama White House staffer Jennifer Palmieri emphasized the urgency of the cause in a memo issued by the Center for American Progress Action Fund:

“If Democrats can’t even stand up to Trump and Republicans in defense of Dreamers —whose moral case is unassailable — they will leave a lot of progressives wondering who Democrats will fight for.”

It is still possible that legislators will decide, for the third time, to approve a stopgap measure to buy time for continued negotiations.

In the meantime, over 15,000 DREAMers have already lost protections and are at risk of deportation since Trump rescinded DACA in September 2017. Another 800,000 are at risk of losing protection once the six-month implementation delay ends in March.

But regardless of the possible political consequences, the direct human impact resulting from negotiating the spending bill are already being felt by millions of Americans.