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Bipartisan deal to head off another shutdown would be strengthened by Rob Portman’s End Government Shutdowns bill: editorial

February 8, 2019

Bipartisan deal to head off another shutdown would be strengthened by Rob Portman’s End Government Shutdowns bill: editorial

Time is short to cut a deal as 17 Democratic and Republican lawmakers meet behind closed doors to find a legislative compromise on President Donald Trump’s $5.7 billion request to build 234 miles of Mexican border barriers. Stop-gap funding to avert another partial federal government shutdown runs out Feb. 15.

None of the panel members -- drawn from appropriation committees -- is from Ohio.

But behind the scenes, Ohio’s Sen. Rob Portman has been building momentum for a compromise that would also include his End Government Shutdowns Act. Good for him.

Portman has long emphasized that mutual agreement on border security and barrier funding is within reach, if only all parties dialed back the toxic rhetoric and came to the table. Well, they’re there now, and ideas are percolating.

The panel’s vice chairman and senior Republican, Sen. Richard Shelby of Tennessee, met Thursday morning at the White House with President Trump to brief him on progress, Reuters reported. Meantime, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters she was hopeful “we will get some good news in a short period of time and certainly in time for the deadline of Feb. 15.” 

But Portman could play an even more important role in whatever compromise emerges if it includes legislation he reintroduced Jan. 10 to take the overly blunt and costly weapon of threatened government shutdowns off the table for future budget impasses.

Although Portman’s bill includes only Republican co-sponsors so far, it’s a bill Portman has offered before under both Democratic and Republican administrations that has drawn support across the aisle. (A Democratic plan offered Jan. 22 by Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia would also dock the pay of members of Congress and the executive branch until budget agreement is reached; it has only two co-sponsors.)

Portman’s End Government Shutdowns bill is now up to 33 co-sponsors and counting, according to Portman’s office. Ohio’s other senator, Sherrod Brown, could help move the bill along by adding his co-sponsorship to the legislation. The bill provides that, in the event of a budgeting impasse, government funding would continue at current levels for a while, then decrease very gradually, to allow breathing space for a deal.

Portman told reporters in a media call on Tuesday that he remains hopeful the bill would be incorporated into whatever package goes to the president for signature. “My hope is we will never shut down government again,” he added.

It’s a hope many Americans share, which is why, if Portman’s bill doesn’t make it through in the compromise package, it should move forward as a stand-alone bill that can be debated and passed along bipartisan lines.

Congress’ top priority right now must be achieving a deal on border security to head off not just another shutdown but also a possible emergency order by President Trump unilaterally redirecting government spending to the wall. Such an order would likely land in the courts, creating more political divisions, not fewer.

Portman’s End Government Shutdowns Act offers a bipartisan way forward to defuse tensions now and shelve politically costly shutdown politics for good.

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