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The Government Shutdown And Bipartisanship


Having been through a brief government shutdown, members of Congress face a question - what now? A debate still looms over immigration. And the agreement ending the shutdown keeps the government open only a little more than two weeks.

Bill Hoagland of the Bipartisan Policy Center has been here before having seen previous government shutdowns. He was a former Senate staffer. He's in our studios.

Good morning, sir.

BILL HOAGLAND: Good morning.

INSKEEP: From the outside, this just seems like a pointless waste of time that frustrated a lot of people. But have past shutdowns ever produced positive results?

HOAGLAND: In a - I went through a major shutdown in 1995-1996, which - during the Clinton administration and Newt Gingrich as speaker. And it was over the issue of the Contract with America and implementing that particular proposal.


HOAGLAND: It was terrible. It was 21 days. In fact, we had it for a few days. We opened up. We shut down again. Long story short, it was much longer than this current one. But out of that then came after, when we finally - reopened government was in 1997. We actually came together on a major bipartisan budget agreement to balance the budget. So it is difficult, obviously, but out of this may come some good.

INSKEEP: You - meaning the very same issues over which the government was shut down, President Clinton and Republicans who controlled Congress worked out an accommodation eventually?

HOAGLAND: They worked out an accommodation after the fact, yes. But they had to go through that struggle.

INSKEEP: Was the shutdown part of that process then, people had to test their power and find out the limits?

HOAGLAND: I think they had to. I think that was part of the negotiations that went on to figure out where people stood on particular issues, how strongly they felt about them. And it gave them an opportunity then to come back and actually come to some agreement later on. So there may be some silver lining in these shutdowns. This was a short one and still a lot to do here in the next 14 days, as you say.

INSKEEP: So is a shutdown OK, then? Is it natural?

HOAGLAND: No, I - we would all prefer that there not be government shutdowns. But sometimes when you have very strong feelings on each side of the issue, in this particular one over DACA and the immigration issue, I can understand how it could lead to this kind of a situation that we had this last week.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about those strong feelings over an issue. I'm wondering at moments like this - I wonder it a lot, actually - is Congress really just representing the public in that people are profoundly divided in this country over their vision for the country and over their vision for the way forward on a range of issues?

HOAGLAND: Well, the issue of immigration is clearly a very divisive issue in this country today, as we've seen. This is what President Trump ran on very strongly. But I think we're also seeing - which is in from a - no surprise coming from a person who works for the Bipartisan Policy Center - that we're very happy to see that there are Republicans and Democrat senators on both sides of the aisle that are working up there to find some middle solution. And I think major solution - major public policy issues, whether it's health care, taxes or immigration, the only solution long-term - sustainable solution is one that's done in a way that is in a bipartisan way at the center of the country.

INSKEEP: Is it a little strange, though - and Lindsey Graham pointed this out during the shutdown - that there was a divide over an issue where there seems to be lots of bipartisan support? Large majorities of Americans want at least a fix for DACA recipients.

HOAGLAND: At least for DACA. I think what's dividing it, the immigration issue, there are other issues besides DACA - the wall, the visa program, issues associated with long-term immigration reform. And those are the kinds of issues that I think are - that are making it very difficult to reach an agreement here because the president wants to deal with all four of them.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, is the table set now for a solution?

HOAGLAND: I think the - yes, I think definitely it is. I think there is a clear solution coming given this fact that the majority leader has made it very clear that come February 8, they're going to move forward with something.

INSKEEP: Bill Hoagland of the Bipartisan Policy Center. Thank you very much.

HOAGLAND: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.