At the January 23 monthly meeting of Community Board 1 (CB1), Jerry Nadler, who represents Lower Manhattan in the United States House of Representatives, briefed local residents on national issues, including immigration reform, budget priorities, and the recent federal government shutdown.
“Hopefully, we can do something about DACA now, without paying a price for DACA,” he said, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which made some immigrants who entered the United States illegally as children (or else remained within the country illegally) eligible for two-year (renewable) reprieves from deportation, along with the possibility of receiving a work permit. This program, which has emerged as a key sticking point in negotiations between Democratic and Republican lawmakers, was initiated by the Obama administration in 2012, and cancelled by the Trump White House last September.
“Here’s the thing,” Mr. Nadler continued. “If the administration says that in return for legalizing these kids, and not deporting these kids who were brought here, they’ll demand a price, the question is what kind of price?”
“They might say they want a border wall, that will waste $20 billion. That’s an obnoxious price, it’s stupid. But maybe you pay it, to save a million people.”
“But, if the price is something else — what if they say, ‘okay, never mind the border wall, but we’re going to make it impossible for anybody who lives here now without proper documentation to keep a job. We’re going to have an anti-employment verification system that’s going to enable us to deport 11 million people’? That’s not a price you can pay.”
“In other words,” he observed, ‘you can’t say, ‘to help these kids, we’re going to deport their parents and everybody else.’ So there are compromises you can make, and compromises you can’t make.”
“Unfortunately, as Chuck Schumer said, negotiating with the president is like negotiating with jello,” Mr. Nadler reflected. “And it’s true, because one moment he’s sympathetic, the next moment he’s not sympathetic. He doesn’t remember what he said from one moment to the other. That’s the kind interpretation. He lies about it from one moment to the next. That’s the unkind interpretation. Either way, he’s very difficult to negotiate with.”
“What will happen now?” Mr. Nadler asked rhetorically. “The shutdown of the government was not only over DACA. There were other, real issues. For example, we’ve been pushing for years, to reauthorize the CHIP program.” This was reference to the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program, which offers matching funds to states for providing health insurance to families with children, when those families’ incomes are too low to cover medical expenses, but too high to qualify for Medicaid.
“This was enacted by Ted Kennedy and Orin Hatch in 1997,” Mr. Nadler recalled, “as a compromise after the failure of Hillary’s healthcare plan back then. And we have to reauthorize it every couple of years. But the Republicans refused to reauthorize it, and money is running out. They finally put this in the budget last week. But they didn’t put in funding for community health centers and other modalities of delivery CHIP.”
“So if we passed it only the way it was,” Mr. Nadler explained, “there would have been a theoretical right to this treatment and theoretical funds available, but no way of delivering the services to these millions of kids. So we have to fix that and a lot of other things in the budget.”
“Another major budget question is so-called ‘parity,'” he noted. “A number of years ago, we passed a bill in the name of budget restraint. I must say, I was against it. But nonetheless, there it is. It said you couldn’t increase the defense budget by more than you increased the non-defense, discretionary budget. Those increases had to be the same.”
“We have, since then, maintained the principle that if you want a $20-billion increase in the defense budget, you’re going to have a $20-billion increase in discretionary, non-defense spending,” he said. “This means everything other than defense, which is not mandated, they way Social Security or Medicare is. And that includes everything you can think of: transportation, housing, education, and so on. These are all discretionary, non-defense spending.”
“The Republicans want to cut that down,” he related. “But we believe that rather than fighting a battle on every single appropriation, we’ll say, ‘parity.’ If you want to increase defense spending, we’ll let you, up to a point. But you’ve got to increase discretionary, non-defense spending.”
“The big issue in this confrontation now is they want a major increase in defense spending, but don’t want the increase in discretionary, non-defense spending,” he observed. “They want to break that parity principle, which will enable them, in the future, to keep increasing defense and reduce all other expenditures. That, plus DACA, is what’s at stake now.”
After his remarks, Mr. Nadler took questions from the assembled crowd. One member of the audience asked, “do you feel that Democrats should have taken a harder line, having begun the shutdown, to make a point of continuing until they extracted real concessions from Republicans?”
Mr. Nadler replied, “the honest answer is, I don’t know. In the House, it was easy for me to vote ‘no,’ against accepting the deal. If I’d been in the Senate, I’m not sure what I would have done. It’s a tactical question. If you hadn’t accepted the deal — and the deal is lousy, it’s a lousy deal — the Senate majority leader says that if we don’t fix the DACA issue by February 8, they’ll put a DACA bill on the floor and the Senate will work its will. Assuming he keeps his word, and he’s broken it twice in the last week, but assuming he keeps his word, there’s no commitment in the House. It’s quite conceivable that you get a decent DACA bill in the Senate, and it doesn’t get a vote in the House.”
“There are 435 members of the House, and probably 300 votes for a decent DACA bill, if its gets to the floor,” he added. “But the Republican leadership totally controls what gets to the floor. The minority part in the House has even less power than the Senate minority, because we don’t have the filibuster. There are plenty of us in the House who are pro-DACA, but the leadership has to let it on the floor. And there’s no assurance of that. They didn’t even say they would. So it’s quite possible we get nothing in the end.”
“But what would have happened if we had kept the shutdown going?” he asked, returning to his original line of inquiry. “The dynamics of a shutdown are that people get so upset that they bring pressure to bear on one side or the other to cave in. They could bring pressure on Republicans to cave in on DACA so as to reopen the government. This didn’t go on long enough to really see, but the initial signs were the opposite. The initial signs were that people would bring pressure on the Democrats to open the government and never mind DACA. And if that happened, two things would have resulted.”
“Number one,” he said, “you keep the shutdown going for another few days, another week, people get really upset, really angry, and the chances of adopting a DACA bill are even less.”
“Second,” he hypothesized, “it also means that the chances of achieving reelection of some of those Democratic senators are less. If you’re the Democratic leader, you have to take that into account.”
“So I don’t know,” he reflected. “If I were in Chuck Schumer’s shoes, I’m not sure what I would have done.”