By No Labels
Americans who thought the threat of a government shutdown was over may be disappointed to find out that Congress again is facing a deadline this week. Without a spending plan or a stopgap measure, federal agencies could close.
Lawmakers have until Thursday to negotiate a solution, leading some to say that immigration issues—which have been tied to the budget bill for months—should be addressed with a temporary, one-year initiative. As the debate continues, here’s what you need to know.
When the government shut down for three days in January, the spending bill that reopened it was a temporary measure known as a “continuing resolution” or “CR.” It gave lawmakers more time to negotiate. Congress uses that device a lot, averaging five CRs a year since 1999. Continuing resolutions are damaging because they fund government agencies in fits and starts, limiting their ability to plan. Now, on Thursday, that time is up again, and Congress must negotiate some solutions or pass another CR.
To get away from stopgap measures, Congress will have to agree on spending levels and pass an annual budget, as required by the Constitution. Yet Republicans and Democrats still disagree over priorities. Republicans want to see funding increases for defense. Democrats want to see those outlays matched dollar-for-dollar by increases in domestic spending. Without an accord, Congress will have to reach for temporary measures. That’s why a No Budget, No Pay law, which withholds lawmaker salaries until they pass an annual budget, makes sense.
For months now, immigration issues have been linked to the budget. The reason is simple: All these CRs are considered “must pass” legislation, and lawmakers attach immigration language in hopes of getting action. Many Democrats and Republicans want “Dreamers,” who were brought to the U.S. as children, protected from deportation. Many Republicans, including President Trump, also want enhanced border security. A failure to agree on a deal led to January’s shutdown.
Now, some say Congress should pass a one-year immigration solution to get the issue out of the way, an idea that has come to be known as “Plan Z.” However, many criticize the idea because it leaves Dreamers without any certainty about their future at a time when there are viable bipartisan immigration proposals on the table.
“I’m a little concerned that if it’s a very short-term fix that they’re still living in fear of what’s gonna happen, rather than knowing that they can live in this country and work towards becoming a citizen, assuming they have a good record,” Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican and Honorary Co-Chair of No Labels, told Politico. “So that does not appeal to me because we’ll be back in the same debate a year from now.”
Congress should work to pass a long-term budget and reject Plan Z because it simply punts important immigration policies into next year. It will do little to shore up U.S. borders and protect Dreamers, while continuing the ill-advised tradition of kicking difficult issues down the road. Republicans and Democrats are close enough on immigration that agreement is possible. The House Problem Solvers Caucus has advanced a bipartisan proposal that can serve as a solid foundation. Polling shows that Americans support Dreamer protections and border security. Lawmakers should set aside election-year messaging and get the public’s work done.