The Maneater

Column: CHIP and DACA are used as bargaining tools while Congress squabbles over who to blame for the shutdown

Sick children and undocumented immigrants get dragged into a political war to fund the government.

Maddie Niblett is a freshman journalism major at MU. She is an opinions columnist who writes about politics for The Maneater.

As the clock struck midnight on Saturday, marking exactly one year since President Trump took office, the continuing resolution that had been keeping the American government afloat and funded for three months expired, effectively shutting down the government and sending every federally funded group into a state of frenzied limbo. This political fiasco was caused by issues unrelated to funding and is the result of Congress’ inability to negotiate issues calmly like it is supposed to do, rather than holding federal programs hostage to meet its own biased goals.

So, how did we get to this point? In September of last year, Trump dismantled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act that gave temporary, renewable amnesty to illegal immigrants who had been brought to the U.S. as children and gave Congress just six months to come up with a new DACA bill. Instead of passing a “clean” bill, Republicans insisted that provisions like tighter border security and Trump’s infamous wall be written into law with DACA. Since Republicans control both houses of Congress and could pass such a bill any time they want, Democrats refused to vote for any budget bill (which needs 60 Senate votes rather than a simple majority) unless it included legislation for DACA without unnecessary add-ons like a 30-foot border wall.

But wait, there’s more. A long time ago (last September), in the galaxy that we are all in right now, the funding for a program called the Children’s Health Insurance Program expired. Congress had the option of renewing CHIP’s funding for six years with an uncontroversial plan that would actually save the government money but instead decided to add the CHIP funding provision onto its latest continuing resolution bill in an effort to ensure that Democrats would vote for it, despite their insistence on DACA’s inclusion.

So there you have it folks. Polarized party politics in its purest form. While Congress is figuratively taking sick children and illegal immigrants hostage, millions of federal workers will be furloughed, or forced to go on unpaid leave, indefinitely, federally-funded parks and museums are closed and military personnel are working without pay. Members of Congress are still being paid, of course, though Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill backed a bill to withhold pay from lawmakers in the event of a government shutdown. It has yet to pass.

Party leaders on both sides of the aisle are doing their best to brand the shutdown as the other side’s fault; popular hashtags include both #TrumpShutdown and #SchumerShutdown. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell even went so far as to tweet a picture that read, “Democrats have a choice to make: CHIP recipients or DACA recipients.”

Government officials should not be forced to make a choice between saving sick children and allowing other children to stay in the only country they’ve ever known. These two issues are entirely unrelated and could easily be dealt with outside of the toxically political nature of a government shutdown. Republicans’ refusal to come to an agreement with Democrats about DACA as well as the use of CHIP funding as leverage to get their way in the budget has caused millions of people across the country to face the dire consequences of a government shutdown. Americans wait with bated breath, hoping Congress gets its act together long enough to give DACA and CHIP recipients the peace of mind that can only come from negotiation and a swift decision.

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