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Photo by Zhang Jun/Xinhua

Immigration, defense funding, paramount to another looming government shutdown

The last government shutdown ended two weeks ago today, and here we are again. 

Matt Saintsing
February 05, 2018 - 4:00 pm
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Just 2 weeks ago, the federal government shutdown ended, and another one is rapidly approaching.

Federal lawmakers have just until the end of Thursday to pass another bill to keep the government operating.  If Congress fails to reach a deal, it would be the shortest time between government shutdowns in more than 30 years.

Still, the GOP and Democrats remain at odds over two thorny political issues: Immigration and defense spending.

The shutdown in January happened primarily because no solution was reached concerning the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. President Donald Trump codify had previously set a March 5 deadline for Congress to strike a deal on the program that protects some 700,000 unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the United States as minors.

To reopen the government, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republican lawmakers would negotiate “in good faith” to resolve DACA.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Christopher Coons (D-Del.) introduced a bill Monday that would grant permanent legal status to undocumented immigrants, also known as “dreamers.”  The initiative would not immediately authorize the $25 billion in spending President Donald Trump is seeking to build a new wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a statement, McCain said the bill “would address the most urgent priorities” of legalizing the immigration status of dreamers, and make some changes to border security.

“It’s time we end the gridlock so we can quickly move on to completing a long-term budget agreement that provides our men and women in uniform the support they deserve,” he said.

McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a defense hawk, is reportedly incensed over the slow pace of negotiates on increased federal spending levels. Supporters of increased military spending—both Republicans and Democrats—want Congress to pass a full year budget so the Pentagon can plan accordingly.

Both parties seek to increase defense and nondefense spending for FY 2018 beyond spending caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

The difference is that Republicans want to increase defense dollars nearly twice as much as nondefense, while Democrats want the caps increased equally on both sides. Given this disparity, another continuing resolution—a short-term funding bill—is probable to keep the government running until March 23.

The problem is a continuing resolution makes long-term military planning nearly impossible. The fiscal year 2018 budget was supposed to be in place Oct. 1, and its absence has produced a slew of continuing resolutions, and a government shutdown.

While continuing resolutions temporarily evade shutdowns, they hurt long-term defense readiness. That’s because when (more like, if) an official budget is struck, the Defense Department may not have enough time to spend all the money provided to them to execute the programs they have planned.

To make matters worse, the current budget cap for the DoD is set at $549 billion, but President Donald Trump has requested $603 billion for the department. Some members of Congress have even asked for more.

But still, some members of Congress are confident a deal can be struck.

I don’t see a government shutdown coming,” Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.)  said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union. “But I do see a promise by Senator McConnell to finally bring this critical issue that affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in America, finally bringing it to a full debate in the Senate.”

“That’s what we we're looking for when there was a shutdown. We have achieved that goal. We’re moving forward,” he added.

But the current debacle will likely end in an 11th-hour continuing resolution, and Congress only has itself to blame.

Federal lawmakers have been unable to compromise on a larger spending deal to lift budget caps that would otherwise emerge under the 2011 Budget Control Act—a law that was intended to force fiscal discipline.