Politics & Government

Why the fate of Dreamers is fueling talk of a government shutdown in Washington

Maria Rodriguez, director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, leads a group of Dreamers, TPS holders, elected officials, faith leaders, labor, and community organizations attending a rally to defend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in front of the MDC Freedom Tower in Miami, on Sept. 05, 2017.
Maria Rodriguez, director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, leads a group of Dreamers, TPS holders, elected officials, faith leaders, labor, and community organizations attending a rally to defend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in front of the MDC Freedom Tower in Miami, on Sept. 05, 2017. pportal@elnuevoherald.com

The federal government will shut down on Friday at 11:59 p.m. if Congress fails to pass a short-term spending bill in the next 36 hours.

Because Republicans control the government, leaders like President Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell must put together a spending bill that gains enough support to pass the House and Senate.

But some Democrats and Miami Republicans say they will vote against any spending bill if a solution for 800,000 young immigrants known as Dreamers — undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children — isn’t imminent. Friday is not the final deadline for passing a Dreamer fix, because the Obama-era executive action called DACA, which allows Dreamers to live and work in the U.S. without the threat of deportation, expires in March. Congress has a few more weeks to come up with a deal, but lawmakers upset with the ongoing negotiations are using the Friday deadline as leverage to force action.

Sen. Marco Rubio is urging the House and Senate to pass a short-term spending bill to keep the government open even if leaders can’t agree on a DACA solution by Friday night.

“You can’t shut down the government over DACA,” Rubio said earlier this week. “The deadline is in March, not Friday of this week. One of the implications of doing so is that the government will not be able to process the permits that people are applying for, so it’s almost counterproductive.”

If Senate Democrats uniformly oppose a short-term spending plan because it lacks a Dreamer solution, the government will shut down, because a spending bill requires 60 votes in the 100-member Senate, and Republicans control only 51 seats.

But Republicans in Congress have traditionally relied on Democrats to join them on votes to keep the government open — to make up for the Republicans who are concerned about the federal deficit and object to short-term spending bills that don’t cut the federal budget.

Here are some of the biggest questions that must be resolved to pass a spending bill. Keep in mind congressional leaders will typically make last-second deals to secure the votes of members who are wavering.

Why could the government shut down over DACA?

Liberal Democrats, and some Miami Republicans like Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, are arguing that finding a solution for Dreamers is critical. They plan to vote against the bill that keeps the government open in an attempt to force action, or at least signal to their constituents that it’s irresponsible to keep stalling on the Dreamer issue.

Sen. Kamala Harris of California is leading an effort among Senate Democrats to vote against a spending bill without a DACA fix, and the government will shut down if every Senate Democrat votes against the bill because spending bills require 60 votes and Republicans only control 51 seats. The Senate passed a short-term spending bill in December by 66-32 margin, with 30 Democrats voting against the plan.

Why do Democrats want a DACA solution now?

Democrats are insisting on a DACA solution now because 120 DACA permits are expiring every day, according to immigration advocacy group fwd.us. That means every day Congress doesn’t act, some Dreamers lose the ability to legally live and work in the U.S.

And since Republicans control Congress and the White House, Democrats are insistent that it’s the responsibility of the GOP to come up with a compromise to keep government open. They’re using the threat of a shutdown as leverage, potentially for a DACA solution or for other concessions that could win Democratic votes.

Trump is already deflecting blame for a potential shutdown, tweeting on Thursday that “a government shutdown will be devastating to our military... something the Dems care very little about!”

Why do Republicans need Democrats?

Senate Republicans need at least nine Democrats to join them to reach the 60-vote threshold. Some moderate Democrats like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin facing reelection in states that Trump won handily will likely be on board, but McConnell may need even more Democrats on board if some Republicans announce that they will vote against a spending plan.

Fiscal conservatives like Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky typically vote against short-term spending bills because they don’t cut the deficit. And this time around, some Republicans like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who say they are tired of voting for spending bills that don’t increase defense spending, have announced that they will vote no, meaning McConnell will have to cut a deal with to get 60 votes.

In the House, spending bills can pass with a simple majority, but Speaker Paul Ryan typically relies on Democratic votes to pass them to make up for fiscal conservatives it in his own party who oppose them. So Ryan must cut a deal with either Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi or the conservative wing of his own party to get a majority.

Complicating matters is the DACA issue, where representatives like Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen who typically side with Ryan plan to vote no this time around.

What happens if the government shuts down?

Non-essential federal work will cease and some federal employees will be placed on furlough. Essential services like the military will continue to operate, but National Parks, zoos or museums operated by the federal government will close.

If the government doesn’t shut down, what happens next?

If Congress manages to pass another short-term spending bill, be prepared for this fight again sometime in February. There’s also the chance that congressional leaders could agree to a federal budget, though that will likely require more concessions from Republicans to Democrats.

McClatchy DC staff writer Andrea Drusch contributed to this report.

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty