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A shutdown should never be repeated

January 30, 2019

The partial government shutdown is over, but the dysfunction that spawned it remains.

For instance, a three-week spending measure reopened the government, which means we might have another shutdown at the end of that period.

For instance, the president’s desire for a border wall is unsated, which means he is threatening to declare a national emergency to get the money he wants to begin building the wall. Legal challenges will ensue.

For instance, the GOP Senate doesn’t quite get that it is a co-equal branch of government, which means that if the president again threatens a shutdown — or that national emergency — Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is unlikely to challenge him. This is signaled by McConnell’s pledge that he will only consider bills the president will sign.

A shutdown must never happen again. To that end, the nation should demand legislation that will essentially outlaw shutdowns. Sen. Ron Portman, R-Ohio, has sponsored a bill that would have the government remain open in the event of failure to pass spending measures. Agencies would be funded at existing levels. To prompt a break in any impasse, funding would be reduced 1 percent after 120 days and another 1 percent every 90 days.

Another bill by Sen. Mark Warren, D-Va., would maintain existing spending for all but Congress and the White House. In other words, members of Congress and the White House wouldn’t get paid.

This approach strikes us as the most effective.

Including this one, there have been at least four shutdowns since Newt Gingrich launched his in the ’90s, three that Republicans — including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in 2013 — got credit for and one by Democrats, a three-day closure last year.

We repeat: There is never a good reason for a shutdown. They should never happen.

The pain from this one will remain with the nation for a while, particularly for the 800,000 federal workers who were furloughed or had to work with no pay. Even with back pay, it will take some time for them to become whole with creditors. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if this shutdown causes an exodus of talent from the federal ranks.

President Donald Trump deserves credit for this last shutdown, which he ended in a surprise move on Friday when he agreed to that three-week spending measure.

About that national emergency he is now threatening. It’s a bad idea. It sets a precedent that could have chief executives continuously circumventing Congress. It will likely be challenged on the grounds that, according to the Constitution, Congress passes spending bills and the president executes the laws.

In this last shutdown, Democrats were adamant that they would not bargain until the president caused the government to reopen. This was an entirely reasonable position because there is never a good reason to shut down the government in the first place, and doing it to force a concession on a border wall that is virtually useless and unnecessary is a particularly bad reason.

The president’s negotiations to end the shutdown were a sham in any case. His proposed deal on Dreamers was a poor one. It would have affected 700,000, but that is significantly lower than the 1.8 million who need the help. And it would have been temporary help.

Other sweeteners in the Trump deal were similarly more bitter than sweet. For instance, he would have given three more years of reprieve for some 325,000 immigrants who have fled countries beset by natural disaster or violence. These are people mostly from El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua here under Temporary protected status. But these people have been here for many years and many have U.S. citizen children. Their protection should not be temporary.

And the proposal would have also dramatically changed the process for asylum-seekers from Central America. Those younger than 18 would have to apply in their home countries. The measure would have capped the number who would be permitted in at 15,000 — when multiples of that are applying — and prohibited appeals in the courts for those denied entry. In other words, accepted asylum practices worldwide would be subverted. U.S. law is clear: Asylum-seekers can present themselves at the border to begin the process, and appeals are part of that process.

Trump’s leverage on Dreamers was severely weakened by a U.S. Supreme Court refusal Tuesday to hear an administration appeal to overturn lower court rulings that prevented the president from dismantling the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program implemented by President Barack Obama.

Again, a shutdown should never happen again. Led by the Texas congressional delegation, Congress should guarantee that with legislation.

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