If you blinked, you might have missed it, but Senate Democrats — along with independents Bernie Sanders and Angus King — caused a partial shutdown of the federal government last weekend by voting against a continuing resolution for funding. As with Maine’s shutdown following the breakdown of budget negotiations last spring, it was brief, barely lasting longer than the weekend. The short federal shutdown was almost totally pointless, as Democrats walked away with no immediate, substantive gains on policy, and no clear political victory, either.

The issue supposedly at the core of the funding fight was the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects those immigrants brought here illegally as children from deportation and is set to expire in March. There’s been bipartisan interest in saving DACA through a legislative fix, from both Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration, but no deal had materialized. Liberal advocacy groups had been pushing for months for Democrats to draw a line in the sand to save DACA, and last Friday night, they got their wish. However, their happiness didn’t last long, as Democrats quickly agreed to a new continuing resolution to reopen the government Monday without a DACA resolution.

The new continuing resolution does remove the Children’s Health Insurance Program from the fight, extending funding for it for six years — a victory of sorts. However, though they were willing to use the program’s funding as a political wedge issue, it’s difficult to imagine that Republicans would have ever allowed its funding to lapse on a long-term basis. CHIP is a popular program, and turning it into a political weapon against Democrats could well have backfired on the Republican Party. So, although Democrats might claim credit for extending CHIP funding, they might have been able to get that done without shutting down the government.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did promise to bring a DACA fix to the floor of the Senate for a vote before the new continuing resolution expires Feb. 8, but that’s not much of a win. All it does is guarantee a debate on the issue, but not the outcome. While that’s a crucial first step toward getting something done on immigration, it’s not clear it will actually result in legislation getting to the president’s desk — and whether he’d sign it if it did.

First and foremost, while McConnell may have committed to debate on an immigration bill, House Speaker Paul Ryan did not. Even if the Senate ends up passing a bill, there’s no guarantee that Ryan will bring it to the House floor for a vote. If he does, it might be radically changed on the floor by amendments that the Senate wouldn’t accept, leaving the bill to die between chambers.

The key question for Democrats to consider is what, exactly, their endgame is here. Do they just want to begin debate on immigration before the Feb. 8 deadline, or do they actually want to have a bill passed? It’s difficult to imagine any kind of immigration bill passing the Senate in less than three weeks. It’s a complex issue, after all, that has befuddled Congress for decades — much like health care reform. Republicans aren’t going to agree to simply codify DACA legislatively; they’ll want concessions from Democrats in return. How far are Democrats willing to go in negotiations? And if they don’t get what they want, what then? Will they shut down government again, or retreat from the issue and use it in the midterm elections?

The Trump administration has been accused of sending mixed messages on immigration, but Democrats have been doing the same. At first, it seemed as if they were willing to engage in bipartisan talks to fix DACA. Then they shut down the government to force a clean DACA fix. Now they’re back to the negotiating table yet again. It’s enough to make your head spin, especially since it all happened over the course of a weekend.

Rather than returning to the same place in a few weeks, it’s time for both parties to give up the shutdown tactic. Neither of them should hold government funding hostage to pursue legislative victories, whether it’s a vain attempt to repeal Obamacare or get exactly their way on immigration. Instead, they should do their job and work together to solve issues, instead of simply lurching from crisis to crisis. These days, it may be hard to imagine, but we used to have members of Congress who were actually interested in governing — and a government shutdown is the exact opposite of that.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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