THE ISSUE: Congressman votes to fund government, says Democrats need to negotiate on border wall
OUR VIEW: Structural problems with Washington put country in an untenable position
Adam Kinzinger is right. The Republican Congressman from Channahon caught a fair bit of attention for two things last week — being one of eight GOP House members to vote for a bill that would reopen parts of the federal government and going on CNN to say “I think shutdowns are stupid.”
Not only are shutdowns stupid — “the dumbest way to do government in the world” he continued — they are completely avoidable. Regardless of anyone’s feelings about the issue at the root of this particular impasse, $5.7 billion in funding for part of a wall along the border with Mexico, it’s absurd to realize we’ve allowed creation of a system where a political disagreement over one subject can put so many unrelated federal institutions on standby.
This border wall dispute is unlike the budget stalemate that defined most of former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s tenure in Illinois, which was stupid in its own right. The federal government is not at odds over the entire apparatus of funding itself. This boils down to one argument about one aspect of one role we expect government to play.
We’ll go a few steps further than Kinzinger and add a few more reasons why this particular shutdown, the longest in American history, is problematic.
Chief among them is the fact the president’s party had control of both the House and Senate for nearly two full years and could’ve appropriated the requested funding without a single Democratic vote in favor. In fact, the shutdown started before Democrats officially gained their House majority.
But beyond that, it’s important to remember that while in the minority, Democrats offered immigration reform compromises that significant members of their caucus considered acceptable and it was the White House that refused to budge, making it difficult to now take seriously claims that only one party is being stubborn. Democrats remain in the minority in the Senate, which means those offers might yet be revived if other folks are willing to listen.
Further, lawmakers actually approved a stopgap spending bill that would’ve allowed the government to function while negotiations continue. Although the president initially agreed to sign off on that plan, he changed his tune. Rather than live up to its Constitutional role as co-equal branch of government with the power to override a presidential veto, officials like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decided to let the president bulldoze his way into the present morass.
It is possible to believe very much in the idea of a full wall running along the Mexican border from ocean to ocean and to still think a shutdown over a small amount of what such a barrier will cost is misguided. After all, the shutdown is affecting Customs and Border Protection, which is supposed to be on the front line of securing the very area deemed to be so dangerous as to imperil the entire nation.
Likewise, it is possible to believe a border wall is one of the worst ideas in American history while still thinking Republicans and Democrats ought to be able to agree on all the other things the government is supposed to operate, like national parks, airport security and food inspection, among many others. Simply because the president says he will support a Congressional proposal does not make it a good or bad proposal on its own merits, and it is quite acceptable for Democrats to vote in support of a White House goal, providing they sincerely agree it is for the good of the country and the people of their district.
Which brings us back to Kinzinger, who offered CNN yet another quote we wish all his Capitol Hill colleagues would take to hear:
“We are eight days into this new Congress and we’re already in re-election mode,” Kinzinger said. “For God’s sake if we can even take at least a week to govern, before we turn to re-election.”
A leading reason Congress polls so poorly among broad swaths of Americans is the perception that members are concerned with nothing so much as securing their next term. This shutdown foolishness feeds that beast, and Kinzinger is right to call it out as such.
It is not the people of Congress who are inherently problematic, it is the structure that allows this type of stalemate in the first place and a campaign funding system that punishes any elected official for stepping out of line, even if doing so is clearly the correct step for the greater good.
We’re not sure what it will take to end this shutdown, but we’re certain that whenever this impasse ends, the next is only a matter of time.