On government shutdown, reason must prevail

In a 1977 Sydney Pollack film, “Bobby Deerfield,” actor Al Pacino’s eponymous character greets his love interest, played by actress Marthe Keller, upon her return from a trip.

“How was Paris?” Pacino asks.

“On strike,” Keller replies, as if this was a normal state of affairs requiring no further comment.

Unfortunately for the United States, the same can be said of federal government shutdowns caused not by labor troubles, but a lack of laboring on both sides of the nation’s political fence to work together to solve the problem. Already, some otherwise reasonable voices have asserted that the practice is nothing new, obfuscating the realities for government workers and the Americans they serve.

Basic facts are not in dispute and should be well-known at this point to readers.

Portions of the federal government’s operations cannot continue because Congress cannot pass, and President Donald Trump will not sign, based on his statements, a budget.

At issue is the president’s insistence that any proposal brought to him will include provisions for spending on a $5 billion-plus wall that he maintains will secure the southern border of the United States.

The executive branch of government is but one of three established by our Constitution, all of which balance each other out. The establishment of two Congressional chambers, the Senate and the House of Representatives, is part of that governmental scheme, designed to provide maximum representation and to get the work of the people done.

President Trump says he will stand firm on his demand for a wall, or some type of barrier, if it takes months or takes years.

Democrats, the newly elected majority in the House, are engaged in a battle of wills with the executive and will not write the barrier or wall into legislation. Republicans, still holding the Senate majority, have vowed to take no action on bills originating in the House that do not include the funding the president demands.

The House has offered an olive branch of sorts, legislation that will allow funding of agencies outside the contested area of security. There are no indications that the Senate will take them up on the offer, with an explicit message that the majority there will not approve a bill that they know the president will not sign. This position shields the executive from the task of a veto.

As a result, the very employees entrusted with protecting borders and safety on transportation are without paychecks, from the Coast Guard to the Transportation Security Administration and beyond. This state of affairs does the nation no good. Sickouts from TSA employees and flagging morale among members of other departments crucial to national security are suffering, and this is the case and shall be the case no matter how many leaders of employee associations the president trots out to parrot his line.

Louisiana’s senators, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, have given no indications that they will abandon the dictates of the president or their Republican leaders. But neither have they engaged thus far in ramping up the rhetoric, to their credit. Rep. Garret Graves, like the Louisiana senators, has likewise, as of this writing, not engaged in destructive hyperbole. The same cannot be said of Rep. Steve Scalise, the Republican whip, who appears to have lent a megaphone for broadcast of the president’s position.

The failure thus far of reasonable voices on the Republican sides of the aisles to reject the stubbornness of a president on an autocratic bent enables executive irresponsibility. Democrats share blame as well. While their attempt at a solution is admirable, it does not reckon the realities of the situation. Further compromise, up to and including some amount of funding for a barrier, will be the only thing to break the logjam.

If both sides of the aisle work toward sincere compromise, face-to-face and in the best of faith, the executive branch will be clearly identifiable as the unreasonable party, and the representative of the people can accomplish what voters sent them to Washington for. The United States government and its agencies should not be held hostage by anyone, no matter how seemingly important the cause. Statecraft must trump partisan digging-in of legislative heels. It needs to begin now.