Professors weigh on shutdown

The Los Medanos College campus wasn’t the only thing that closed over the break —the federal government was shut down for three days, from midnight EST Saturday, Jan. 20 to the evening of Monday, Jan. 22. Even when a bill was eventually passed to continue funding the government, it only extended operations until February 8. With the Republicans busy with their annual retreat from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2 and the Democrats occupied with their own retreat starting Feb. 7, there will be little time to work out another extension before the next cutoff date, which could lead to a second shutdown.

The main causes of the shutdown were debates over funding for the national Children’s Healthcare Insurance Program —which expired September 2017— funding for President Trump’s proposed border wall project and the ongoing debate over the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) laws and Dreamers. Some people, including the White House itself with a partisan answering machine message during the shutdown, blamed Democrats, accusing them of jeopardizing CHIP and the rest of the government to protect Dreamers by forcing a vote on them.

“The Democrats are turning down services and security for citizens in favor of services and security for non-citizens. Not good!” tweeted President Trump Jan. 22. “Democrats have shut down our government in the interests of their far left base. They don’t want to do it but are powerless!”

LMC history professor Joshua Bearden disagrees with the idea that any one group holds total responsibility.

“Really there is a lot of blame to go around. Republicans did the same thing when Obama was president,” he stated, referring to the 2013 government shutdown in which a Republican congress ‘forced’ a government shutdown in an attempt to block or downsize Obamacare.

“Regardless of one’s own ideological perspective, there are two bigger questions here,” Bearden continued. “Should the budget be held hostage to a party’s ideological agenda? And should the parties compromise more? From my perspective, both parties need to answer those questions.”

Political science professor Ryan Hiscocks also weighed in, agreeing that both parties contributed to the shutdown.

“The Republicans control the levers of power for the federal government so they have to assume some level of responsibility for the actions of government,” said Hiscocks. “Funding is a complex process and when other political issues are attached to it, especially issues that are as emotionally charged and imminent as DACA, it can break down as we’ve seen.”

In the end, a short term spending bill was approved by a margin of 81-18. No vote was held on the fate of Dreamers, though the Republicans under Mitch McConnell verbally agreed to hold a vote at a later date. California senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris both voted against the deal and later attacked it, with Harris expressing disappointment at the lack of an “ironclad” guarantee.

“Is there such a thing as an ironclad promise in our political system?” Hiscocks asked of the situation. “Any and all promises can be broken because what matters at the end of the day is how the law is created and enforced… the President explained his immigration deal during the State of the Union address so we know that Congress will probably begin negotiations… will this deal become law, it’s anyone’s guess at this point.”

Bearden stressed that regardless of the reasons why shutdowns occur, neither party should be able to cause one simply for the sake of pushing an issue.

“Each item should be handled separately,” he said. “I fully support DACA and immigration reform, but Republicans forced a shutdown when they couldn’t repeal Obamacare any other way. Neither party should be allowed to do this.”

However, Hiscocks sees “deal-making” and “logrolling” as parts of the political sprocess, citing filibustering as a similar concept.

“It is a part of our system that is probably not going to change any time soon,” he said. “As long as minority parties have leverage… to obstruct legislation in order to gain concessions in other areas that they value, they will use that leverage during the legislative process.”

Bearden expressed relief at the fact that the situation was handled relatively quickly.

“Compared to 2013, this one was short and sweet,” he said. “Because most of the shutdown occurred over the weekend, hardly anyone noticed that the shutdown occurred at all.”