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Congress Closes for the Year Without a DACA Solution, Leaving Thousands of Americans in Limbo

Congress has avoided a government shutdown with a short-term spending bill that will keep the government funded until January 19, 2018, thereby punting the 2018 budget fight into the new year. The House voted 231-188 to pass the spending bill, followed quickly by a 66-32 vote from the Senate. However, the short-term bill did not include any protections for people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a pathway to legal residency established for undocumented Americans who were brought here as children.

In an act of characteristic cruelty, Trump decided to end DACA back in September. As part of his decision, he delayed the end of the program and called on Congress to act and implement their own version of the program by March 5. However, while Congress hems and haws and delays, more than 100 DREAMers lose their status every single day.

Democrats had previously promised to take a stand and insist on a clean DREAM Act before they would approve any government budget bill. The DREAM Act, which has been introduced in Congress five times since 2001, would establish a clear path to citizenship for DACA recipients. However, Republicans who face racist, xenophobia-mongering opponents in their party primaries are less likely to vote for such a bill in an election year, and now that the question has been pushed to 2018, the DREAM Act is a harder sell for any politician in the party of immigrant hating.

“[Senate] Leader [Chuck] Schumer promised he’d urge the majority of senators to vote no, as many as possible,” said Representative Darren Soto (D-FL), a member of the congressional Hispanic Caucus. The Caucus had marched to Schumer’s office ahead of the short-term spending bill vote to demand action for DACA recipients. “And if we can’t get it done now, we will lay it all on the line on the 19th when we come back in January.”

While this promise of support in January is encouraging, the Democrats undeniably caved this month. They guaranteed the DREAMers an anxious, frightened Christmas instead of one where they might finally feel safe again.

Of course, in defense of the Dems who caved, there are genuine questions about the efficacy of forcing a government shutdown. When the Republicans shut down the government in 2013, they didn’t get as much out of it as they’d hoped, and the political grandstanding drew ire from moderates and businesses. In addition, it’s unclear how much leverage the Democrats would be able to extract by withholding the wages of federal employees and shuttering government services. Republicans consistently bash government employees and assert that government “is the problem.” And as their tax bill indicates, they’re hardly concerned about the problems of working families, so the suffering of those employees who have to wait on their wages would hardly drew their compassion or attention.

In addition, the short-term bill does include some much-needed money to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a program that provides medical care for approximately 9 million low-income children, through March. However, it is unclear whether that funding arrangement will even be sufficient to cover the costs. The bill also waives automatic cuts to Medicare and other entitlement programs, which would have otherwise kicked in once Trump signed the Republicans’ tax bill. (When a bill jacks up the deficit, money is automatically taken from other programs to cover the cost.) While I obviously don’t want to see any cuts to Medicare, this waiver is mostly a political ploy by the Republicans. The tax bill will almost certainly trigger Medicare cuts at some point, unless Congress continues to pass waivers. Since 2018 is an election year, it’s far more politically convenient for Republicans to have those cuts kick in for 2019 rather than 2018.

All in all, it’s another happy holiday from the developed world’s worst governing body.

(Via Splinter; image via Shutterstock)

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