The Straits Times says

What govt shutdowns bode for US

The latest United States government shutdown mercifully lasted a mere working day. Since it was effective from midnight on Friday and federal agencies reopened for business on Monday evening, only non-essential services were affected during the period. Consequently, there was little impact on the economy. Certainly, the disruption was not of the scale of earlier shutdowns - in 2013 during the Obama administration, for example, the shutting down lasted about a fortnight.

President Donald Trump signed the appropriations Bill on Monday evening after a weekend of contentious negotiations that ended with the Democratic Party agreeing to trust the word of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who promised to address the status of young undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children by parents. This cohort represents about 800,000 beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a measure introduced by President Barack Obama in 2012. The recent crisis was triggered by Mr Trump's decision to cancel DACA, to which the Democrats responded by holding hostage funding for the entire federal government.

DACA recipients are often referred to as Dreamers, after a similar piece of legislation called the Dream Act, which was introduced in 2001 to give its beneficiaries a path to American citizenship. The dreamers now fall between the ages of 16 and 35. While there are some Asians in the category, the vast majority came from Mexico.

The weekend deal ensures that until Feb 8, at the very least, there will be no interruption in the work done by US federal agencies. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat, has endorsed the plan, which rolls back several healthcare taxes and continues the Children's Health Insurance Programme for six years. As with the last US government shutdown in 2013, the deadlock was widely viewed for what it represents: "blame game" politicking at its worst on Capitol Hill. This is hardly the way to run the world's most powerful nation.

Of wider consequence is the erosion of trust in the institutions of an advanced industrial democracy. It is evident that in today's America, bipartisan bargains are all but dead. The Trump tax cut was a Republican show in the House and Senate. Mr Obama's Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, was forced through on the basis of Democrat votes alone. The last time the Republicans and Democrats worked closely together on a major issue was to effect the economic rescue package during the global financial crisis. When established institutions flounder in a severely divided society, it creates space for political insurgents to flourish. Compromise and cooperation, hallmarks of democracy, might then be more elusive.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2018, with the headline 'What govt shutdowns bode for US'. Print Edition | Subscribe