Fix shutdown disease, not the symptoms

January 3, 2019

Who could disagree with Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s planned bill that would require Coast Guard personnel to receive pay for their work? How ridiculous is the situation the nation finds itself in that Congress would even have to consider such a law as necessary?

Yet here we are. On Dec. 22 the federal government entered a partial shutdown. It is all about politics and grandstanding, not fiscal policy. The trouble it is causing for federal workers is real, however, as is the inconvenience and disappointment for those who planned to spend time visiting national museums and parks.

Among the agencies caught up in the shutdown is the Department of Homeland Security, under which the Coast Guard falls. About 7,400 civilian Coast Guard workers are on indefinite furlough while the shutdown drags on. But 42,000 active-duty Coast Guardsmen and about 1,300 civilians assigned to critical positions are considered essential and must continue reporting for duty, though without pay during the continuing partial government closure.

In fact, under federal rules, a government shutdown cancels all annual leave, including planned vacations or sick leave, for these essential personnel.

Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, chose New London, home to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, to make the announcement of his planned bill that would require paychecks to flow to these essential Coast Guard personnel.

The problem with Blumenthal’s proposal is that the withholding of pay and the furloughs are the symptoms. Blumenthal and Congress need to focus attention on curing the disease, meaning the political game playing that is prolonging this needless shutdown.

If Coast Guard personnel are to be paid, then why not border patrol agents, airline security workers and immigration enforcement personnel? They are also obligated to continue work without pay because they are judged essential.

The expectation is that all these personnel will receive back pay when the shutdown ends, but going without a regular pay check is a hardship.

All told about 420,000 employees are obligated as essential personnel to stay on the job without pay. About 380,000 federal workers are on unpaid furloughs.

Yet the more exceptions Congress carves out to pay employees without having approved expenditures for them, the easier it will become to instigate these political shutdown charades, which are already too common.

No, the better solution — the real solution — is for the folks elected to serve this country to do their jobs.

The nation finds itself here largely because President Trump wants to save face, but the Democrats, now in charge of the House of Representatives, are in no mood to provide him political cover.

Trump is asking Congress to approve 1.3 billion for improved border security measures, but not a wall.

As noted in our earlier editorial, end the standoff by agreeing on a 2.5 billion compromise, but appeared open to it in his meeting Wednesday with new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Chuck Schumer of New York, the Senate’s Democratic minority leader. However, the Democrats were reportedly not budging off their number.

Blumenthal should try to persuade them they should.

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