On Jan. 22, the Senate voted 81-18 to reopen the federal government. Just before the cloture vote on the continuing resolution (“CR” or “Feb. 8 CR”) that ended the three-day government shutdown, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced that his party has secured a commitment from Senate Majority Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) to immediately take up consideration of a bipartisan DACA bill if the issue is not resolved by the next government funding deadline, Feb. 8. This commitment, though nonbinding, was enough to secure the Democrats’ support for the short-term CR.
From the GOP side, only two members voted against the Feb. 8 CR: Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT). The 16 Democrats who broke away from their caucus include: Sens. Booker, Blumenthal, Feinstein, Hirono, Leahy, Merkley, Murphy, Sanders, Tester, Wyden, Cortez Masto, Markey, Menendez, Warren, Gillibrand, and Harris. For many of these Democratic members, they simply do not trust McConnell to hold up his end of this shaky deal. For the others, a presidential run in 2020 might have something to do with their “no” votes.
The Feb. 8 CR passed by Congress isn’t much different from an earlier version that passed the House on Jan. 18. The original House measure would have extended government funding through Feb. 16.
In addition to reopening the government, the Feb. 8 CR also contains the following major provisions:
- Six-year CHIP reauthorization
- Two-year delay for the Medical Device Tax (2018 and 2019) – costs $3.7 billion
- Delay of the Cadillac Tax until 2022 – costs $14.8 billion
- Suspension of the Health Insurance Tax until 2019 – costs $12.7 billion
In short, Democrats voted for a CR that is more or less the same as the one they voted against on Jan. 19, which led to the short-lived government shutdown. Sure, this time around they got firm assurances from the Senate GOP leadership that the upper chamber will act soon on a DACA bill. But critics on the left wonder whether verbal assurances from McConnell can be considered a meaningful concession for reopening the government. Further, by supporting this CR, do the Democrats have any real leverage left to force a resolution to the DACA problem?
The 16 Democrats who voted against the stopgap might be right to doubt this bargain. First, what’s to keep McConnell from reneging on his verbal, nonbinding commitment to draft, take up, and vote on a DACA bill?
In his floor speech yesterday, Schumer said, “I expect the majority leader to fulfill his commitment to the senate, to me and to the bipartisan group, and abide by this agreement. If he does not, of course, and I expect he will, he will have breached the trust of not only the Democratic senators but members of his own party as well.”
Someone should check in with Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) to see when the Senate will take up a measure to stabilize the health insurance markets and lower premiums — a vote that McConnell promised to hold in exchange for her support for the GOP’s tax bill.
Second, House Republicans are not part of the CR/DACA-vote arrangement put together by Senate moderates. Thus, they are under no obligation to take up a bill in their own chamber. And even if Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) will allow a vote in the House, passage is not guaranteed.
In view of all this, it’s fair to question what Senate Democrats have accomplished in recent days. In about three weeks, Congress will again face another shutdown drama, and Democrats will essentially be back to where they started.