Senator Alexander on the current partial government shutdown
By Kim Swindell Wood | January 5, 2019 7:23 am
Last Updated: January 5, 2019 at 7:25 am
Government shutdowns should be as off-limits to budget negotiations as chemical weapons are to warfare. Nevertheless, we are stuck in one.
A good lesson for resolving this current partial shutdown comes from the summer of 2015, when President Barack Obama invited me to meet with him at the White House to talk about our work in Congress to fix an education law called “No Child Left Behind.” If you think the current impasse on border security is complicated, try setting federal policy for 100,000 public schools. It’s like 100,000 spectators agreeing on which play to call at a University of Tennessee football game: Everyone is an expert.
That day, Obama told me that he needed three specific things to be included in the bill for him to sign it. I told the president that if he would not oppose the bill as it made its way through Congress, those three things would be in the final bill. On Dec. 10, 2015, Obama signed our legislation into law, calling it a “Christmas miracle,” even though there was plenty in it he didn’t like. He told me, “You kept your word,” and I told him, “You did the same.”
Why, as a Republican, did I agree to a Democratic president’s requests with which I did not agree? Because I have read the Constitution and understand that if the president does not sign legislation, it does not become law.
Democrats should recognize, as I did in 2015, that when an elected president, whatever you may think of him, has a legitimate objective, you should bend over backwards to try to meet that objective if you want a result. President Trump made it clear he won’t sign any legislation to reopen the federal government without some increase in funding for border security, so here are three options for where we could go from here:
Go small: Give the president the $1.6 billion he asked for in this year’s budget request, which the bipartisan Senate Appropriations Committee approved. Provide an additional $1 billion to improve border security at ports of entry, which everyone concedes is needed.
Go bigger: Pass the bill that 54 senators voted for last February, which combined a solution for children brought to the United States illegally (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA) and $25 billion in appropriated funding for border security over 10 years.
Go really big: Begin the new Congress by creating a legal immigration system that secures our borders and defines legal status for those already here. In 2013, 68 senators — including all 54 Democrats — voted for such a bill, but the House refused to take it up. That bill included more than $40 billion and many other provisions to secure our borders.
We could go small. We could go a little bigger. But I’d like to see President Trump say, “Okay, we’ve got a new Congress. We’ve got a divided government. I’m the president who can actually make this happen.”
Resolving this partial government shutdown by going really big on immigration could be Trump’s Nixon-to-China, Reagan-to-the-Berlin-Wall moment in history. I hope Democrats will negotiate with the president and come to an agreement so we can do what we were elected to do: make the government work for taxpayers, not shut it down.