Government shutdowns for political advantage are now the high stakes game of chicken in Washington. It’s embedded in today’s give-no-ground partisan culture to the detriment of effective governance.
The latest impasse testing which side blinks first began three weeks ago when Democrats refused to accept a budget deal that included any funds for President Trump’s long-promised wall or barrier on the southern border and other measures to stem the tide of illegal immigration. Trump and Republican members of Congress likewise would not accept a budget without at least $5.7 billion for the border barrier. As a result, some federal agencies went into shutdown mode including the Treasury and Homeland Security departments, affecting more than 800,000 workers.
In his speech to the nation this week, Trump made the case for completing a barrier on our southern border. He said, “This is a humanitarian crisis — a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul.” In just the last month alone 20,000 migrant children were illegally brought into the United States. Children, he said, “are used as human pawns by vicious coyotes and ruthless gangs.” Of women migrants, he said one-in-three were sexually assaulted during their dangerous trek through Mexico.
A wide range of requests in Trump’s budget proposal called for more border agents and immigration judges and “bed space to process the sharp rise in unlawful migration.” There also was “an urgent request for humanitarian and medical support.” Changing his terminology, Trump said the pared down $5.7 billion was requested “for a physical barrier.” He added: “At the request of Democrats it will be a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall. This barrier is absolutely critical to border security.”
Trump pointed out that Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer as well as many other Democrats had supported a border barrier in the past. “They changed their mind only after I was elected president,” Trump said, pinpointing the political motivation of the Democrats’ about-face on the barrier. Clearly, the Democrats believe it is to their advantage to stand their ground and damage Trump and the Republicans as the 2020 presidential election nears. They walked out of the last “negotiating” session with the president and Republican leaders. They said Trump’s border crisis was “manufactured.”
For perspective, the MDJ asked Georgia’s senior Senator Johnny Isakson about the impasse and the outlook for resolving it. First, said Isakson, “I’ve never voted for a shutdown.” He said, “They do not solve problems. It’s a totally bad thing to do.” But it is an attractive ploy for politicians, with “Democrats trying to make a point, Trump trying to make a point…. So one of the two is going to have to blink.”
That said, from his first-hand knowledge of the southern border and immigration issues, Isakson said, “Walls are much better than anything else. It’s the right way to control immigration, the most effective way to do it.” Yet Democrats are now totally against a wall – or barrier – of any kind. Eventually, Isakson believes there will be a compromise to end the impasse and reopen the shutdown government agencies. “Hopefully, it won’t be long,” he said.
That fit with the view of Georgia’s junior Senator David Perdue who said in an interview with Bloomberg News, “I think cooler heads are going to prevail here in the short term.” In answer to a question as to whether Republican senators should lead in resolving the impasse, Perdue said: “I think this is a time when we need to step forward and force a compromise here.” He said Trump had repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to negotiate. Democrats in the Senate last year voted for $25 billion for border security, Perdue pointed out. Since then Trump has said he would accept far less in a compromise but the Democrats refused to budge, flaunting their winning the U.S. House majority in the 2018 midterm elections and blatantly playing to their increasingly liberal base. It’s clear they want to deny Trump any semblance of victory regardless of the needs for effective border security. This constitutes politics at its worst.
Senator Perdue believes the Senate should play a bigger role. “I think it’s time for the Senate right now to put forward and put pressure on both parties to try to get this concluded,” he said. “We need to do this to reverse the uncertainty in the markets to get people settled down right now but let’s remember this: this is about a national security issue.”
Should Trump as a last resort obtain the funding by declaring a national emergency? Before his Thursday trip to Texas to emphasize the border issues, the president told the news corps: “I have the option.” If a deal can’t be worked out, he said, “I probably will do it, maybe definitely.” But he insisted he preferred to go through Congress and said he was willing to compromise further on the budget.
In today’s deeply divided national politics, compromise is eschewed and the government shutdown ploy is a prime negotiating tool as reflected by the fact that this partial shutdown is the third within a year. This is not the way our government should operate. To that point, Senator Isakson joined with several colleagues Friday in reintroducing the 2012 “End Government Shutdowns Act” that he said “would help end these haphazard, last-minute budget agreements that threaten our economy and unnecessarily harm taxpaying Americans.”
It’s high time for the Democrats to come to the table and work out a compromise. Then Congress and the president should move on with the work they were elected to do. The American people deserve no less.