Sunday, January 6, 2019

Senator Lamar Alexander on Suggesting ways to end this government shutdown

I spoke about ending the partial government shutdown on the Senate floor this week. You can watch here.

By Senator Lamar Alexander - Government shutdowns should be as off-limits to budget negotiations as chemical weapons are to warfare. Nevertheless, we are stuck in one.

In the summer of 2015, President Barack Obama invited me to meet with him at the White House. Our conversation that day in the Oval Office offers a lesson for resolving the current partial government shutdown. The president wanted 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. 

On that day, Obama told me there were three things that had to be in the legislation 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 were plenty of other provisions in it he didn’t like. “You kept your word,” he told me. “So did you,” I said.

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 realize, as I did back then, that if an elected president has a legitimate objective, they should bend over backwards to accommodate it. Since President Trump made it clear he won’t sign any legislation to reopen the federal government without some increase in funding for border security, 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. The bill failed only because of last-minute White House opposition.
  • 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.
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.

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