BRIAN DICKERSON: GOP holds Dreamers, sick kids hostage in budget showdown

By BRIAN DICKERSON
Guest Columnist

(TNS) In the shattering climax of “Sophie’s Choice,” William Styron’s 1979 novel about the Holocaust, the title character is forced to decide which of her two young children will be spared from the gas chamber.

The psychological repercussions of that choice doom the mother as well as the 7-year-old daughter she sacrifices. But the novel’s real villain is the death camp physician who contrives Sophie’s conundrum — a dilemma from which considerations of morality and reason offer no escape.

Now Republican congressional leaders are seeking to impose a similarly outrageous choice on federal lawmakers trying to avert a government shutdown this weekend. The GOP’s instrument of torture is a stopgap spending measure that assures long-term funding for the popular Child Health Insurance Program, but only if Democrats jettison, at least for now, their demand to renew legal protection for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who entered the United States illegally as children.

Pitting children against children

The 20-year-old Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provides coverage for nearly 9 million children who live in poverty-stricken households that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. About 117,000 of those children live in Michigan, which will run out of money for CHIP coverage this spring unless Congress reauthorizes the program.

The Deferred Action on Child Arrivals directive, also known as DACA, is an Obama-era initiative that protects more than 700,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation as long as they register with the government and continue to work or attend school.

Both programs enjoy support from elected officials and voters across the political spectrum.

Launched by then-President Bill Clinton in 1997, CHIP quickly became a bi-partisan favorite after the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projected it would ultimately reduce federal health care costs. U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, predicts that the program will save the government money over the next six years and says Congress should have renewed it last September.

DACA covers fewer people but commands similarly broad-based support, especially since Trump pulled the plug on the program last September. (The president says he has compassion for the program’s young beneficiaries, known popularly as Dreamers, but maintains that Obama exceeded his constitutional authority when he sheltered them without congressional approval.) Polling consistently suggests that about two-thirds of Republicans, and more than three-quarters of all voters, favor a path to citizenship for children who accompanied undocumented parents or relatives here.

A retreat from bipartisanship

Compelling lawmakers to choose between DACA and CHIP is a cynical tactic whose only purpose is to drive a wedge between Democratic senators (some of whom have vowed to oppose any stop-gap spending bill that fails to protect Dreamers) and preserve DACA as leverage for some future partisan donnybrook.

But that is precisely what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan proposed to do when they backed away from a bi-partisan spending deal that would have provided legal status for DACA beneficiaries.

Both parties were equally represented in the group of six senators who negotiated the compromise after Trump promised to sign any spending measure that garnered a critical mass of bipartisan support. South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham and Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin said Trump initially embraced the agreement, then rejected it after White House immigration hawks convinced him it would fall flat with the president’s xenophobic base.

A couple of points deserve emphasis as the likelihood of a shutdown grows:

• Like so many of Trump’s problems, the DACA crisis is self-created. It was he who established the looming March deadline for reviving the program. And he can’t do it without congressional help, unless he concedes that his constitutional rationale for ending DACA was bogus.

• After asking lawmakers in both parties to coalesce around an immigration “bill of love,” the president poisoned negotiations last week by making clear his distaste for the immigrants of color DACA protects.

No reasonable voter who has watched this dance of ineptitude unfold can blame Dreamers for insisting that Congress assure the future of DACA now, not after the urgency of Friday’s spending deadline has passed. The Republican leadership’s effort to save one desperate group of American children at the expense of another must be called out as the cynical ploy it is — a choice no decent lawmaker would accept.

Brian Dickerson is the deputy editorial page editor for the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at (313) 222-6584 or bdickerson@freepress.com.

 

avatar

Posted by Tribune News Services

Leave a Reply