A new idea to end the shutdown

A new idea to end the shutdown
© Stefani Reynolds

As the federal government shutdown nears one month, it shows no signs of being remedied any time soon. Amidst the polarized politics with both Republican and Democratic leaders seemingly digging their heels in, the rank and file members of Congress might need to think creatively and proactively about taking unorthodox measures to end the stalemate.

If a small equal number of Republicans and Democrats in Congress would cosponsor and build support for legislation that confirms an additional expenditure for border security and establishes a new bipartisan border security committee, they could probably end the government shutdown and escape the controversy over security along the border with Mexico.


First, the cosponsors in the House and Senate should ask all their colleagues for bipartisan support to authorize the expenditure of an additional $2 billion a year over the next three years for a total of $6 billion for the purpose of increasing border security with Mexico. This funding would not replace normal government spending on border security, which could be continued annually without much controversy.

Second, to reduce polarization over a wall, exactly how to spend the extra $6 billion would not be specified in the authorizing legislation. Specific decisions would be delegated to the border security committee, made up of the two top leaders in each of the parties in the House and the Senate.

In addition to these eight powerful members of Congress, the committee would also have seven other members who would be chosen from among retired federal judges who, based on their presidential appointments with input and approval from the Senate, have been properly vetted. These candidates should have rendered judgments with distinction for at least a decade before retiring and be able and willing to serve on this committee.

The seven judges would be elected by secret ballots cast by all members of Congress, with the House and the Senate voting separately. More than one ballot may be needed to select seven retired judges, each of whom would need to receive majority support from both the House and Senate. Voting with secret ballots would discourage political polarization and partisan bandwagoning while also helping to select the ideal judges.

This border security committee of 15 distinguished people, a majority of whom would be members of Congress elected by United States citizens in earlier elections and also whom have been selected by colleagues in Congress for leadership roles, would have the authority to decide the exact portions of the money to be used for more personnel, surveillance, new technology, physical barriers of any type, or any other purpose to strengthen border security. They would determine the exact locations where the improvements would be made along the southern border.

The actions of the committee should be decided by majority vote and be final. The committee could be chaired by one of the judges selected by a secret ballot of the 15 members voting among themselves. The committee would serve for three years or until its money has been totally allocated.

Because the proposed legislation would increase border security, but not favor either of the sides in the controversy over the wall, the president and members of both parties in Congress should be able to support it. If they do, the bill would pass with large majorities in both the House and Senate, making it impossible for any single person to veto or block the legislation.

We continue to hear about the consequences for federal workers, some who live paycheck to paycheck, and for national parks that have gone unsupervised. With this solution, all Americans could get back to work knowing the border would be secure with the help of good bipartisan judgment. It could also jump start the conversation within a seemingly intractable debate about our immigration policy and border security.

Robert Johansen is the professor emeritus of political science and peace studies and member of the Kroc Institute at the University of Notre Dame.