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In the Wake of a Government Shutdown, Democrats Struggle to Salvage a Victory

Last Friday, House and Senate Democrats banded together and said in no uncertain terms that they would not vote for a short-term spending bill that did not address the plight of the more than 700,000 young undocumented immigrants who have come to be known as Dreamers. By Monday, that collective resolve to couple immigration reform with a continuing resolution to keep the federal government open had withered in the harsh light of public scrutiny and, with roughly 2/3 of Senate Democrats voting in the affirmative, the Senate passed legislation that would fund the federal government until February 8th. Despite the opposition of 3 in 4 Democrats the House quickly followed suit and, just like that, the government shutdown was over.

The spending bill that Senate Democrats helped pass on Monday was almost identical to the one they rejected leading up to the shutdown, with the lone significant difference being that the continuing resolution passed on Monday only lasted 3 weeks as opposed to the 4 week continuing resolution voted on 3 days earlier. The Children’s Health Insurance Program, which had gone unfunded for 114 days was also finally funding the program for 6 years, ensuring that nearly 9 million children and 375,000 pregnant women will receive the medical coverage they need.

However, the short-term spending deal that was passed on Monday was just as notable for what it didn’t fund as for what it did, a list of neglected items that included protection for Dreamers, funding for community health centers, disaster relief, spending increase parity and money for addressing the opioid epidemic.

There was nothing in the short-term spending bill guaranteeing the protections for Dreamers that Senate Democrats had demanded 3 days before. Instead, there was the word of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who pledged on the Senate floor that he would bring an immigration bill up for debate if the government did not shutdown again on February 8th. The worth of McConnell’s word varies depending on who one talks to, with more moderate Democrats and Republicans prone to thinking the Senate Majority Leader has backed himself into a corner where he must do as he promised and more progressive lawmakers and activists skeptical of placing any trust in a man who has given them little cause to do so.

On Wednesday, Politico reported that Senate Democratic leadership was willing to back away from their long-held demand that any long-term spending agreement also provide help for Dreamers. According to sources familiar with the budget process, negotiators from both parties are working on a deal that would raise spending caps using an array of budgetary gimmicks in such a way as to allow Democrats to claim they achieved their goal of keeping parity between defense and nondefense spending increases while allowing Republicans to claim just the opposite. The catch for Senate Democrats is that the only way their Republican counterparts would agree to such as deal is if the negotiations around the budget and around immigration were separated.

Unlike with CHIP, funding for Community Health Centers was not included in Monday’s spending deal, worrying health care advocates and leading one red state Democrat—Senator Jon Tester of Montana—to vote against the spending bill for failing to protect rural health clinics in his state. At the same time, calls from Democratic Senators to significantly increase opioid spending funding to address the opioid epidemic were not reflected in the deal either, although Rep. Tom Cole said on Wednesday that increased opioid funding would be included in any long term spending package.

Similarly, the spending deal failed to provide any new money for disaster relief in Puerto Rico and The U.S. Virgin Islands, despite the tremendous need in those areas in the wake of Hurricanes Maria and Irma. It has been over 3 months since the last disaster relief bill, in which Puerto Rico and the USVI were slated to receive $4.9 billion in disaster relief loans as part of a $36.5 billion aid package while U.S. states like Florida and Texas were just given funding. However, Puerto Rico has yet to receive that emergency loan because the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Treasury Department say they aren’t broke enough to warrant it yet. Meanwhile, an $81 billion disaster relief package for hurricane & wildfire relief that passed through the House in December is still bogged down in Senate, where Democrats are pushing for $4.6 billion to prop up Puerto Rico’s nearly bankrupt Medicaid program.

AIDS United will continue to monitor budget negotiations as we count down towards the next potential shutdown on February 8th, making sure to keep you abreast of any news that impacts people live with or are affected by HIV.


Posted By: AIDS United, Policy Department - Friday, January 26, 2018

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