Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

The US government shutdown helps no one but bickering politicians

The American public deserve better thanthe petty politicking at work in Washington, DC

Demonstrators hold a rally outside the US Capitol supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Dreamers) programme / Bloomberg
Demonstrators hold a rally outside the US Capitol supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Dreamers) programme / Bloomberg

As anniversary celebrations go, it wasn’t quite the auspicious occasion that Donald Trump had been anticipating. Instead, the US president was forced to mark his one-year anniversary with an embarrassing defeat and a federal government shutdown after failing to strike a deal on a spending bill. Barely had some 800,000 civil servants been told to stay home than the trading of insults began. Mr Trump blamed Democrats for failing to help him reach the 60 votes needed to clear the bill. Senate opposition leader Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, said dealing with the president was “like negotiating with Jell-O”. Republican senator Lindsey Graham demurred: “I think we look petty”.

Certainly, there is politicking at play. The Republicans used the same mechanism to bring Barack Obama’s administration to a standstill for more than a fortnight in 2013 in protest over funding for Obamacare. It was a shrewd political move: the party went on to pick up seats in the mid-terms, control of the Senate and with it, the power to block the former president. As a bid to influence policy, it is both a cunning ploy and a reassurance that the president cannot steer a solo course without being challenged, even if it is simultaneously dysfunctional and crippling. Mr Trump has learned, to his chagrin, that he is not unstoppable; a volley of tweets, including one in which he peevishly sniped: “The Democrats wanted to give me a nice present” showed he was clearly rattled. Emergency sessions have been called to push through temporary spending measures. In the meantime, public sites have been closed and thousands of public sector workers are at home without pay.

At the heart of the impasse is an issue which matters to most Americans – that of the funding of the Dreamers initiative, an Obama-era programme offering protection to 700,000 young immigrants without documentation. Mr Trump wants to shut it down. The president is allowing his judgment to be tainted by his determination to ride roughshod over his predecessor’s policies. Moreover, he is doing so at tremendous cost to the American people (the last shutdown cost the public purse an estimated $24 billion). The bickering and the barbs serve neither the best interests of those children waiting to hear their fate, nor the hundreds of thousands of public sector workers left in limbo.