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Midlands lawmakers ready for shutdown to end, but still stand by Trump on border security

January 11, 2019

WASHINGTON — Rep. Don Bacon says he certainly doesn’t like the partial government shutdown that’s now approaching record length.

But the Omaha area Republican opposes the piecemeal spending bills that are being brought up by House Democrats this week to fund various parts of the government.

Those are “grandstanding” measures, Bacon said, that would never receive a Senate vote or be signed by President Donald Trump.

“It has zero chance to get to first base,” Bacon said. “The Senate says they’re not even going to take it up. And even if it did, the President would veto it. We’re spinning our wheels and getting nothing done. There’s going to have to be a meeting somewhere in the middle.”

Top Democrats say the president is the one who has shown that he’s unwilling to negotiate, throwing temper tantrums because he can’t get the funding for a border wall he wants.

And they are pressing their case through piecemeal measures, approving them in the House one-by-one and calling on the Senate to take them up.

Every member of Nebraska’s all-GOP House delegation, as well as Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, has stuck with their party leaders and President Trump in voting against those individual spending bills. That included one for the Agriculture Department passed Thursday that garnered a handful of Republican votes.

Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, has supported her party’s proposals to reopen the government without funding the border wall.

Axne focused Thursday on the U.S. Department of Agriculture, writing a letter to congressional leaders urging them to reopen the department. She noted that while some USDA programs are still funded, others have shut down.

“The lapse in USDA federal funding will have a significant impact on an industry that is an economic driver and job creator across the state of Iowa,” she wrote. “So long as the USDA remains unfunded, hundreds of crucial programs and services are unavailable, preventing Iowa farmers from providing for their families and feeding people at home and around the world.”

The back-and-forth continues as federal workers are missing their first paychecks due to the shutdown, there’s little evidence of movement and the two sides are pointing fingers at each other.

Midlands Republicans this week continued to make the case for physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I never campaigned on a full border wall,” Bacon said. “But I think a targeted wall always made sense.”

Bacon said calls into his Capitol Hill office have been running 70 percent in favor of the wall, which he noted was a central plank in Trump’s presidential platform.

“This was the president’s top issue in the campaign,” Bacon said. “It was never really my issue. I never supported a 2,000-mile wall, but it was his top issue. And I think that that’s how the system works. There’s got to be give and take. For him to get zero on this is not — I think it would be too much to expect to say you’re going to get zero, period, and have him roll over on it.”

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said he wants to reopen the government, but he also wants the right type of border security.

“A long-term shutdown is not sustainable,” Fortenberry said. “I think most Americans are with the president and with those of us who again want clarity on how we are going to actually advance border security. But I’m worried that the commingling with the shutdown actually undermines the ability to have that argument for border security.”

The four GOP senators from Nebraska and Iowa have also been keeping rank, with none of them calling for the Senate to take up the House-passed spending bills.

One option the president has floated is to declare a national emergency in order to build the wall.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said this week that the legality of such a move would be up to the courts to determine.

“I’m not going to encourage the president to do that, but if the president does it, then we’ll just have to wait and see what the court says,” Grassley said. “There’s plenty of room for compromise in Congress on border security, especially given that many Democrats have already supported a fence and a wall, or barriers, whatever you want to call it, in the past.”

All five members of Nebraska’s congressional delegation have asked that their pay be withheld during the shutdown, but Grassley and King have opted to continue collecting theirs. So has Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.

“We do continue to work here in the Senate and so, yes, I am taking a paycheck during this time,” Ernst told reporters Thursday. “And I do understand that we have a number of federal employees that are without pay right now. They will be paid back, though. I do need to emphasize that. They will be paid.”

Ernst said she’s no fan of shutdowns and would like to see this one end.

“But what we see right now is Senate Democratic leadership really needs to make good faith effort to work with our majority and work toward a solution that will bring this government shutdown to an end,” Ernst said.

Ernst said she has pushed proposals that would require lawmakers to stay in Washington when they fail to pass a budget on time. And she pointed out that she led a successful effort to keep the Senate in town for much of August to work on spending bills, one reason most of the government remains open.

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said she doesn’t see the shutdown ending anytime soon with Democrats and President Trump so entrenched in their respective positions.

“Until they come out and start being able to talk and being able to negotiate, this is where we’re at,” Fischer said.

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