A plea for leadership in Washington

A plea for leadership in Washington
© Getty Images

This month, our federal government shut down for the second time in five years. I know our country has endured times of intense political division in the past, from the Civil War to Vietnam and Watergate, but in recent years we are suffering from more and more self-inflicted wounds. The federal government may come back to life for another few weeks while Congress revisits the same old sticking points, but unless our leaders start learning from their mistakes, we’ll be back on this shutdown hamster wheel.

Their first mistake is failing to follow a normal budget process. Rather than passing annual budgets, Congress for years has funded government operations on a series of continuing resolutions. Several times each year, either because funds will run out or because government borrowing will exceed the federal debt limit, Congress must drop everything else to focus on a short-term fix.

Businesses cannot run this way. Even households cannot run this way. The federal government cannot run this way either. Politicians have noted that our military personnel will continue to work during a shutdown, but we count on the federal government for far more, including raising revenues, paying expenses, keeping our utility and transportation networks running, and making sure our cars, banks, medicines and water are safe. What happens to all those activities when the government shuts down?

Their second mistake is the new practice of holding the budget process hostage to other causes. In 2013, Republicans did it by refusing to pass a continuing resolution to fund the federal government unless it also delayed or defunded the Affordable Care Act. This month, Democrats refused to keep funding the government unless the resolution also addresses the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, by making it a permanent part of our immigration law. If, as Democrats rightly believed in 2013, it was unfair and unwise to hold government funding hostage to the fate of ObamaCare, how can they justify the same action now for DACA?

Their third mistake is an unhealthy obsession with bargains. Let’s start with DACA as an example. The idea behind it is simple. For many years, illegal migrants came to the United States with underage children. These children grew up here, found jobs here, formed families here, and now consider this nation their home. Why force innocent people to return to countries they never knew?

Opinion polls show consistent support for DACA by large margins across the political spectrum. A Fox News poll last September found that 83 percent of voters support a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. We expect our elected representatives to govern according to the dictates of their conscience and the will of their constituents, and President TrumpDonald John TrumpRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Allies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump States file lawsuit seeking to block Trump's national emergency declaration MORE announced in September that he was turning this issue back to Congress for a decision. After four months, why has Congress failed to bring it to a vote?

Because from the very beginning, the idea of making DACA permanent was tied to larger issues. According to Democrats who met with Trump, DACA would be tied to a package of border security issues, but not to immediate construction of a wall along the Mexican border. Within days, the president denied the claim. On Twitter, Rep. Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingConstitutional conservatives need to oppose the national emergency Democrats need someone in ‘the Ojeda lane’ Pence on push to remove Omar from committee: Steve King saw ‘consequences’ MORE (R-Iowa) said that if the reports were true, then the “Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair.”

As an average citizen trying to make sense of things, this kind of nonsense tries my patience and undermines my faith in our leaders. I’m not a politician or a policy expert, but aren’t they mixing up apples and oranges? DACA is at heart an immigration issue, and the best way to address illegal immigration is by enforcing existing laws that penalize employers for hiring illegal immigrants. How, after all, did the parents of DACA children find employment here?

As for border security, isn’t that a much larger discussion than building a wall along the Mexican border? Even if we manage to build one, we still have a land border more than 5,500 miles long with Canada, 95,000 miles of unprotected coastline, and hundreds of international airport and seaports that require better protection. The bottom line is that immigration policy (deciding who lives and works here) and border security (keeping us safe from criminals and terrorists) are different functions of the federal government. For either to work well, each must be conducted separately.

So here it is, the simple plea of a citizen to our leaders. First, adopt real budgets to keep our government running. Second, never hold the budget process hostage. Third, stop squeezing every good idea to death because your party needs a point for every point scored by the other party. Instead, look for areas of common ground where we can move past gridlock and start moving ahead.

Howard Konar is founder and executive director of Common Ground, an organization dedicated to building consensus around public policy issues.