Shutdown Highlights Partisanship Run Amok

On January 19, the U.S. government shut down for the first time in four years due to an inability to agree on a bill to fund the government. After the shutdown, legislators bickered and blamed the opposite party over and over again so as to avoid taking responsibility for their own mistakes. The government shutdown is a perfect example of how partisanship has destroyed congressional effectiveness.

Though technically the government shut down because they couldn’t decide on a temporary spending bill to pass, the most significant reason ultimately lies within the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA is an Obama-era initiative that prevents the deportation of children, known as Dreamers, whose parents brought them to the United States illegally; there are currently 800,000 Dreamers in the country. Though President Donald Trump P’00 announced its cancellation months before the shutdown, Democrats have continuously focused on preserving the program since then for the safety of the Dreamers. Eventually, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer decided to use the deadline for a government funding bill as leverage to save DACA. Without the Democrats, Congress couldn’t pass a bill, causing the government to shut down, which ultimately led to the unpaid furloughing of hundreds of thousands of federal employees. Though Mr. Schumer’s overarching goal of keeping DACA alive was admirable, the aftermath of his decision illustrates the vast polarization of Congress to a point that is no longer acceptable.

However, DACA is not the only underlying reason why the government shut down. Another reason lies in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a government program that helps provide healthcare for 9,000,000 children of low-income families. CHIP has recently been running out of money, so the Republicans included a six-year refunding of it in their spending bill. While this may at first seem like a generous and positive addition, it is really just a political tactic to get the Democrats to sign the bill. If they sign it, they are losing out on an immigration deal that could save DACA; if they don’t sign it, they are essentially denying healthcare to 9 million kids. The Republicans capitalized on the healthcare of children to make the Democrats look bad, further showing the unpleasant loathing going on between opposite parties.

Lastly, part of the blame does belong to Mr. Trump’s inconsistencies. He has repeatedly agreed to deals preserving DACA in exchange for increased border security, then immediately changed his mind and demanded more from the Democrats. Because of this, nobody knows what Mr. Trump really wants. Moreover, the behavior of the administration during the shutdown contributed to it not reopening for a few days. In the official White House statement, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared “We will not negotiate the status of unlawful immigrants while Democrats hold our lawful citizens hostage over their reckless demands. This is the behavior of obstructionist losers, not legislators.” The White House refused to discuss the matter that was at the stem of the government shutdown because of ruthless, harmful partisanship. Using Mr. Trump’s rhetoric by calling Democrats “obstructionist losers” only adds fuel to the fire. Mr. Sanders also tweeted the hashtag #SchumerShutdown to attribute all the blame of the shutdown to Mr. Schumer. Democrats have responded by blaming the shutdown on all Republicans, claiming that their inability to pass one spending bill despite controlling all three branches of government simply proves their incompetence. These tactics further polarize Congress by encouraging hatred of the opposite party.

Partisanship is effectively paralyzing government mobility and effectiveness. In each of the above factors that contributed to the shutdown, the contention between Democrats and Republicans played a key role in making sure that Congress could not do its job. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham even admitted that “There is no defense to what we’re doing. I think we look petty. We look that we care more about the party flag than the American flag.” Both parties are at fault in doing this –– partisanship is undeniably one of the most critical obstacles currently faced by the government. Congress is responsible for making the tough decisions that will keep our country running and Americans safe, which includes funding the government, preserving DACA, and providing children with healthcare. To accomplish any of these goals, the government has to forget about their desperate need to obstruct the opposite party and stay on their side of the party line. Otherwise, we will be stuck in our gridlocked position forever.

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