Congress passes money bill after Dems back off from pro-Dreamers pledge
Protesters take over the waiting room of the offices of Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to demand that the Senate pass a clean DREAM Act, on Capitol Hill, Dec. 19, in Washington. Andrew Harnik | AP

Except for pro-Dreamer advocates such as Rep. Luis Gutierrex and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, both of Illinois, Democrats went back on their pledge to sink a bill that would keep the government open unless the package included the Dream Act. By breaking their pledge a temporary stop-gap measure to keep the government open until Jan. 19 was passed by the Congress on Dec. 21.

The pledge they backed away from would have rescued some 800,000 undocumented Dreamers brought to the US when they were children from arrest, incarceration and deportation by early March. Donald Trump had ordered an end to President Obama’s Deferred Action for Dreamers Program, exposing the Dreamers to arrest and deportation.

Several months ago, when Trump and congressional Democratic leaders agreed on the temporary money bill expiring now, the Democrats declared the next one would include the Dream Act. Now they appear to want to push it off until January 19. And that has Dreamers and their advocates upset, so much so that 200 of them sat in at 10 congressional offices on Dec. 19.

Meanwhile, federal worker unions lobbied hard to make sure the GOP did its duty to keep the government’s doors open and its services going, Government Employees President J. David Cox and several congressional Democrats told a Dec. 20 telephone press conference. The Dreamers did not come up at that session.

 

The Democrats have leverage in the money bill fight. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has only a 51-48 edge there, as Republican John McCain is in cancer rehab. McConnell needs to swing nine Senate Democrats for the 60-vote supermajority to enact the money bill.

And in the House, the rabid right-wing GOP “House Freedom Caucus” controls enough votes to sink the money bill unless GOP leaders pick up Democratic support. The Freedom Caucus hasn’t threatened to defect – yet.

The Dreamers want the Dems to use their leverage. AFGE wants a money bill, and without offsetting extra costs the GOP might attach to it by slamming federal workers, as they have in past years.

“The question for Democrats is whether they are an opposition force to the white supremacist agenda or if they are enablers. The Democratic party stands at a moral crossroads – if they vote for a year-end spending bill without the Dream Act they will be voting to deport immigrant youth,” said Adrian Reyna of United We Dream, the main organization of “Dreamers.”

“The top Democrats – Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi — committed to using their leverage to protect immigrant youth and they are now waffling. We can’t wait for the Dream Act because immigrant youth are being taken to detention camps now, and 850 of us are losing protections every week and millions of us are in danger.

“Yesterday, our leaders did sit-ins at 10 congressional offices and today we will visit 35 of them. 1,500 immigrant youth are here from Montana, North Dakota, California, Texas, New York and everywhere in between. We are fighting for our right to exist and the Democrats are debating whether or not to put some real skin in the game.”

 The demonstrations followed a week-long fast by Dreamers and their allies in Florida, with particular attention paid to Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, both R-Fla.

“I’m proud to have taken part in this fast urging Senator Rubio and Representative Diaz-Balart to pass a clean Dream Act by the 22nd,” Miami resident and “Dreamer” Lorena Jofre, whose own two children were born here and are U.S. citizens, told United We Dream.

“At first, I wasn’t sure if I could pull off the whole week, but I knew some members of Congress wanted to use us as bargaining chips to terrorize other members of our community, and others don’t feel the urgency to pass it this year at all. So I did what I felt was right: I put my body on the line for a clean Dream Act because DACA recipients are losing protections and at the same time, we don’t want more members of our community targeted by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (ICE).”

AFGE has a simpler goal. “I hope we’re allowed to go to work to do our jobs and not get shut down,” union president Cox told the telephone press conference.

“Federal employees shouldn’t be a scapegoat for Congress not doing its job.”

The GOP, however, set aside the money bill to instead jam through its tax cut for corporations and the rich, which it sent to Trump on party-line votes the same day. That tax cut “is bad for the country and bad for working people,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told the press conference. “But if the government’s shut down, we’re demanding the federal employees be held harmless. It’s not their fault,” Hoyer said.

“We have thousands of employees in the Bureau of Prisons in danger every day,” Glover said. Ironically, they’d still have to show up for work without getting paid if there’s a shutdown, while inmates employed by Federal Prison Industries would still get a substandard minimal wage. “And they know it,” Glover said of the contrast.

“We are constantly assailed by the right-wing media and the Republican Party,” added John O’Grady, head of AFGE’s local at the embattled Environmental Protection Agency.

The damage to the feds could continue in at least one version of the temporary money bill, AFGE Legislative Director Tom Kahn said. The version would add $56 billion more for the Defense Department, but the GOP would have to “offset” that with cuts elsewhere – and the likely targets are federal workers’ pay, pensions and health care benefits.

Prior “offsets” to make up for government red ink have cost the nation’s 2 million-plus federal workers some $182 billion in less than a decade, federal worker unions point out. And Trump wants to impose yet another pay freeze on them in the calendar year starting Jan. 1, Kahn said.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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