A Tale of Two Bills – Or How Trump Ended the Shutdown (For Now)
The longest partial government shutdown in US history is finally over. President Donald Trump ended it on Friday, January 25th by inking his signature on H.J. Res.28, a stop-gap spending bill passed by both the Senate and the House.
This was a very Presidential gesture from Trump, as the bill does not give him the funds needed to build that wall. The continued obstruction from the Democrats was not only hurting our border communities but also nearly 800,000 Federal Government employees across the United States.
And when day 34 ended in high drama in the Senate, with a showdown between competing bills ending in yet another stalemate, all parties realized the need for a temporary compromise. Here is how the whole thing played out over the last 2-3 days.
The Situation in Congress on Day 34
With the shutdown entering its second month and federal employees facing the grim prospect of yet another missed paycheck, the pressure was on both sides of the aisle to find a solution. And the Democratic-dominated House was on a spree of passing individual funding bills for the various government agencies, heaping further pressure on the GOP ranks.
Keen on ending the impasse on their own terms, both the GOP and the Dems decided to push forward with competing bills. With just one day left before the next Federal government payday, Senators from both sides seems to have had enough of the shutdown.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opened the floor for the two bills on Thursday, January 24th. The GOP bill was tabled by McConnell himself, while the Democratic bill had already been passed by the House.
Both bills sought to deliver at least some concessions to the opposing side without compromising on the core needs of each party. The aim was to try and create cracks in the opposing ranks, as they both needed 60 votes to win a Senate split 52-47 in favor of the GOP.
What Were the GOP Bill Provisions & Concessions
The core package in the GOP bill was, of course, the $5.7 billion funding for the border wall. There was no way the GOP would get the President’s backing without that provision inside! If successful, the bill would have reopened the Federal government and made our borders more secure.
But to do that, it needed the backing of at least 8 Democratic senators. And to woo them, the GOP tried to throw the Dems a bone in the form of some concessions for the Dreamers. The DACA is a controversial progressive bill, a pet project of Obama if you will, that has earned some rightful conservative wrath for its soft treatment of the immigrant crisis affecting our nation.
The Democrats continue to hang on to it in a hope of wooing minority votes. The White House-backed bill aimed to pander to this weakness, by granting temporary safeguards and protection to the so-called Dreamers. In a bid to keep its own conservative senators in line, the bill also added some strict curbs on immigration.
What Did The Democrats Offer In Contrast?
True to form, there was no provision for a border wall in the competing plan from the Democratic side. Their focus was primarily on getting the funding for the Federal government agencies and keeping them open through February 8. Even though that was the primary focus of both parties, without border wall this measure too would be dead in the water.
The Democrat strategy was to try and please GOP senators with more money for border security. In fact, they were offering close to $5 billion for border security funding, to be used for agencies like the Border Patrol and local law enforcement.
The bill highlighted the childish position of the Democratic party on the border wall: they recognize that there is a problem at the border and are willing to throw money at it, but not for a border wall! The Democrats needed at least 13 GOP senators to defy their party and President for this measure to succeed, which would have been wishful thinking at best.
What Happened On the Senate Floor, And How It Affected the Impasse
As expected by virtually everyone in the world, probably including both parties, neither bill managed to garner enough votes on the floor. While that may suggest a continuing deadlock, the finer details painted a slightly disturbing picture for the GOP and the President.
With failure almost guaranteed, all eyes were on how individual senators would vote on these bills. Cracks in the ranks, if any, would be an indication of the strength/weakness of each party. And in that respect, the Dems shaded it by a comfortable margin.
The GOP bill gained 50 votes in favor, with 47 Senators opposing it. Only one Democratic Senator voted in support of the bill, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. It was not that big a surprise, as Manchin is a conservative-leaning politician who has voted for the GOP in the past as well. Two GOP senators, Tom Cotton from Arkansas and Mike Lee from Utah, opposed the bill because of the way it diluted on immigration control.
In contrast, the Democrat bill gained more votes despite the party having lesser bodies in the Senate. It gained 52 votes, while the GOP could only muster 44 in opposition. A whopping six Republican senators broke rank to support the Democrat bill: Cory Gardner (CO), Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Jonny Isakson (GA), Mitt Romney (UT), and Lamar Alexander (TN).
The Senate vote showed clearly that the Democrats were more united than the GOP on the issue of the border wall and the government shutdown. But as part of the big picture, both sides realized the need for compromise, perhaps President Trump more than anyone else. This led to the speedy conclusion of compromise talks in both Senate, House and the White House, leading to the current stop-gap measure.
Conclusion – Has Trump Really Caved In?
The Trump decision invited the ire of hardline supporters like Ann Coulter, who chastised the President for “wimping out.”Media reports like this one from the populist New York Daily News also tried to paint a picture of an embattled President finally caving in.
They are both wildly inaccurate for one important reason: Trump has not signed any long-term bill without provisions for the border wall. All he has done is do the 800,000 suffering Americans a favor by getting them their livelihoods back. The combined effect of unpopular comments from his Cabinet and the cracks in the GOP ranks made this decision seem like the best option at the moment.
And this stop-gap bill is just a temporary lifeline for both the Dems and the GOP to come together and deliver a budget with funding for the wall. If they fail to do that in the weeks provided in the bill, we end up back at square one. If and when that happens, Trump will have the added advantage of having patiently stuck by the legislative process.
Any failure on part of the Congress to address the border issue from now on will strengthen the President’s hand in dealing with it personally, executive action style. Based on what we have seen so far from the Congress, that still feels like the best way to get that wall in place.