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Government is back in business, at least until next month

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 22. 2018 8:13PM
Members of the Common-Sense Caucus include, from the left, Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND; Susan Collins, R-ME; Joe Manchin, D-WV; Maggie Hassan. D-NH; and Amy Klobuchar, D-MN. (COURTESY)

Senate leaders reached a bipartisan agreement to end a three-day government shutdown, passing a stopgap 18-day spending bill on Monday with the support of New Hampshire’s two Democratic senators.

In return, Democrats got a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to tackle before the next shutdown deadline the issue of so-called “dreamers,” young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

Their protections from deportation will end in March as President Trump terminates the Obama-era program known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

The Senate voted overwhelmingly, 81-18, for the bill to reopen the government. Speaker Paul Ryan said House Republicans would support the temporary measure, which extends government funding until Feb. 8. President Trump signaled his support for the deal as well, but still sounded a hard line on immigration.

“I am pleased that Democrats in Congress have come to their senses,” he said in a statement read by his press secretary, Sarah Sanders. “Once the government is funded, my administration will work toward solving the problem of very unfair illegal immigration. We will make a long term deal on immigration if and only if it’s good for our country.”

The deal that ended the short-lived government shutdown, at least for the next three weeks, was brokered by an unusually large group of more than 20 senators from both parties that had been meeting for days, including Monday morning, to resolve the standoff after talks broke down between leaders and the White House.

The Common-Sense Caucus, as the group is called, was organized by Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, and included N.H. Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan. Collins initially formed the Common-Sense Caucus during the 2013 government shutdown; Shaheen was a member at that time as well.

Bipartisan progress

Hassan and Shaheen agreed during separate interviews on Monday that the work of the Common-Sense Caucus could bode well for other legislative priorities that have bogged down in partisan gridlock, such as defense and domestic spending, the opioid crisis, disaster relief and funding for community health centers.

“A lot of trust was established in this group that will help us as we continue to address some of the bigger challenges that led to the shutdown,” said Shaheen. “There was a general agreement that we have to do something about the budget process and appropriations, to stop governing by continuing resolution and get a long-term budget agreement.”

The group started with 20 senators and ended over the weekend with around 25, according to Hassan.

“It’s been growing daily, and I think what you see when you have that kind of interest in finding common ground across party lines is a real possibility to make progress,” she said. “We know there is bipartisan interest and support on the other issues, but as long as we had this looming issue with a March 5 deadline ... it was hard to make constructive movement on anything else.”

Democrats were initially cool to McConnell’s offer, wanting more than a promise that GOP leaders, who control the Senate floor schedule, would seriously consider an immigration bill. Hassan said a more firm commitment from McConnell turned the tide.

He pledged that if the two sides can’t reach an agreement on “dreamers” by Feb. 8, he would allow a “dreamers bill to come to the Senate floor. “There is a real possibility here to make progress,” said Hassan. “The majority leader made that commitment not only to Democrats but to his own caucus as well.”

On the Senate floor, 15 Democrats, including Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and other leading liberals, voted against the measure, as did Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent. Two Republicans, Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, also voted against the bill.

CHIP program funded

Monday’s compromise also funds the national Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for another six years.

“Today’s vote to reopen the government ensures that 14,727 vulnerable Granite State children will have health care for six more years,” said Gov. Chris Sununu. “I am pleased that senators Shaheen and Hassan ultimately put politics aside and listened to the people of New Hampshire.”

The end of the shutdown also came as good news to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, where as many as half the civilian workers were facing furloughs. New Hampshire civilians who work for the National Guard, known as dual-status technicians, were also facing furloughs.

Had the shutdown continued, state agencies that rely on federal funds, such as the Department of Labor or Environmental Services, may have been affected.

During the last shutdown in 2013, then-Gov. Maggie Hassan and the State Employees’ Association reached agreement to prevent federally funded state employee layoffs. The agreement allowed for furloughs in lieu of layoffs as federal funds ran out.

“I think it’s very important that we got people back to work,” said Shaheen.

Material from Tribune Media News Service was used in this report.


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