Who won in the brief federal government shutdown? Some argue that Republicans did because Senate Democrats blinked, but the real answer is that Americans won.
The government they fund and rely upon for countless services wasn’t held hostage to political gamesmanship, as it has in years past. That it wasn’t is largely due to the common sense of a New York Democrat, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.
Schumer did something that Congress has been unwilling to do for years: In a high-pressure situation, he compromised. That’s how democracy is supposed to work. Indeed, in a country as large and diverse as the United States, it’s the only way it can work.
That’s what didn’t happen when Barack Obama was president and tea-party Republicans repeatedly sat down in the mud and refused to budge unless their demands were met. It was bad government then and it would have been bad government now.
Schumer and at least 32 other Democrats understood that, even as they made political calculations about the relative impacts of ending or continuing the shutdown. Other Democrats weren’t buying it and, it’s fair to say, their issue is an important one: the fate of the “Dreamers” who are being used as political pawns in the fight over spending.
Dreamers are illegal residents, brought here as children and raised in the United States. This is their home. Talk of deporting them to a place they have never known repudiates the concepts of freedom and decency that form the backbone of American democracy. It is beyond cruel.
It is difficult, then, to criticize harshly the opposition of 15 Democrats, including Kirsten E. Gillibrand, another New York Democrat. Those senators joined two Republicans and one Independent in voting to continue the shutdown. Some of those are potential 2020 presidential candidates who, in addition to Gillibrand, include Sens. Cory A. Booker, D-N.J.; Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Those senators, and many Democrats on the left, were disappointed in the vote to reopen the government while continuing to leave the Dreamers hanging. Their concern is on target, but their approach missed the mark.
The plight of the Dreamers is heartbreaking. It needs to be resolved in a way that allows them to remain in this country. But single-issue politics is dangerous to the country and to the parties that pursue them. The unwillingness to make compromises signals the kinds of governmental divisions that for years have served the country poorly.
To a significant extent, those divisions are symptomatic of the fissures the separate Americans generally. But they also deepen them by giving them government’s official imprimatur. They are salt in the wounds. Congress should be in the business of bridging differences, not aggravating them.
The deal Schumer struck was hardly perfect. He won assurances that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would allow an immigration vote that sets the stage for a debate on the Dreamers. There are no guarantees that the House will do anything of the kind. It’s a risk, but such is the nature of compromise.
Nevertheless, the deal reopened the government, and ended the threat of furloughs for thousands of government workers. Significantly, it also refunded the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years. That is a worthy achievement, on its own.
How this will end remains uncertain. An overall immigration bill needs to be passed and, more immediately, the Dreamers need to be rescued. But keeping government running is one of Congress’ primary responsibilities. Schumer made a good decision in ending the shutdown while allowing the fight for American honor to continue.