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Congress Must Put Nation’s Interests First

December 30, 2018

Every new year produces new calls for political leadership, but as 2019 nears its dawn the need is particularly acute. Republican majorities in Congress have acquiesced to President Donald Trump’s forced partial shutdown of the federal government for purely political purposes. The issue is Trump’s insistence on a $5 billion appropriation to further a useless wall along more than 1,400 miles of the border with Mexico to make Trump look tough to his base. Republican members of Congress share portions of that base, of course, so their reticence to overrule Trump is understandable. But they need only to consider the impact of the shutdown on their own constituencies to see the folly of the shutdown. After Trump recklessly imposed and then escalated sweeping tariffs on goods produced in China, for example, he had to scramble to compensate a huge Republican constituency that was deeply harmed by retaliatory Chinese tariffs — American farmers. The administration announced a plan to pay those farmers $12 billion — a fraction of what they lost. Now, due to the shutdown, the government cannot even partially compensate those farmers. Now, thousands of federal agencies and facilities are closed, adversely affecting economies in every congressional district. More than 380,000 federal employees have been idled without pay; more than 400,000 are working without pay. The current Congress has decided to punt the problem to the next Congress, which will convene this week with a new Democratic majority in the House. It’s time for congressional Republicans to join those Democrats in presenting Trump with a different sort of wall — a veto-proof plan to reopen the federal government and lay the groundwork for progress regardless of whether Trump wishes to participate in it. That plan should include funding to improve overall border security, but nothing for a wall that is a political prop rather than a useful tool in the 21st century. Members of Congress from both parties long have ceded their power to the executive branch for fear of the political backlash that might arise from their own exercise of power. That is shameful in its own right — the Founders endowed Congress with superior powers precisely to hold the executive in check. But amid a leadership crisis it is utterly inexcusable. Trump had opposed a shutdown before suddenly reversing himself to appease the most vocal and extreme elements of his political base. Congress should let him off the hook by putting the national interest above his.

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