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Rob Portman is uniquely positioned to mediate compromise on border security to end the shutdown. He needs to step up to do it: editorial

January 10, 2019

Rob Portman is uniquely positioned to mediate compromise on border security to end the shutdown. He needs to step up to do it: editorial

Sen. Rob Portman opposes government shutdowns -- all of them. He’s introduced, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, legislation to override use of the shutdown weapon. He plans to do so again now.

His End Government Shutdowns Act isn’t the only reason Portman is uniquely positioned to mediate a compromise on border security funding and get government open again. But it’s a leading indicator of Portman’s common-sense approach to immigration and budget issues -- something the Ohio Republican can and should be using right now to ramp up the volume on his usually quiet voice and become a visible and prominent political force for dialogue and compromise. 

The alternative is something Portman knows would be a disaster for Ohio, for the nation and for Republicans -- if the dispute escalates to the point that President Donald Trump follows through on his threat to invoke national emergency powers. In doing so, Trump would override congressional budget prerogatives and likely seek to seize unspent money from the Pentagon construction budget to build the wall, including $61 million allocated to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton. 

Portman said earlier this week that he hoped Trump “doesn’t go the national emergency route because he doesn’t have to,” given the potential for a negotiated deal.

He’s also told reporters that a middle ground on border-security spending is doable -- suggesting $3.5 billion as a number to target.

So go out and make it happen, Sen. Portman. 

As Trump’s nine-minute Tuesday address to the nation showed, the president is deeply dug in on what appears to be an ever-escalating dollar figure to spend on a wall (now up to $5.7 billion, from an earlier $5.6 billion -- and $1.6 billion in his original budget request last February). He’s also proposing new border-detention and related costs ($4.2 billion); narcotics deterrence and detection at the border ($675 million -- more than 14 times his original $44 million budget request); and other border security enhancements. Total price tag from a Jan. 8 White House fact sheet: $12.72 billion.

Trump followed up his speech with a “bye-bye” walkout from a Wednesday meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after they declined to support his wall.

Just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy, a total waste of time. I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 9, 2019

Yet, again, compromise is possible: Schumer and other key Senate Democrats, including then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, once voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006 that authorized 700 miles of border fence.

Trump’s $5.7 billion for the wall, by the way, works out to about $24.4 million per mile for the 234 miles of steel barrier now proposed.

Negotiations and compromise are the only logical -- common-sense -- way forward.

Portman, wide awake to the dangers of a possible emergency declaration by the president, and long cognizant of the unacceptable costs of government shutdowns, can be the point person to make that happen. He could start by getting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to recognize the peril and help him focus the White House on a face-saving compromise that would get Democrats to the table by including a Dreamers solution and other Democratic priorities. 

Sen. Portman, you have the means, understanding and political chops to facilitate this process. Given the stakes, for Ohio and the nation, it is well worth your time, your reputation and focused efforts.

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