Submitted By Congressman Elijah Cummings
The American people breathed a sigh of relief last Friday when President Trump agreed with Democratic congressional leaders to reopen the federal government for three weeks while we negotiate about the President’s demand for $5.7 billion in funding for his border wall.
President Trump also declared, however, that he might force another government shutdown if a “fair deal” does not emerge by February 15; and House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy indicated that he believes that the President’s threat of another shutdown is “credible.”
The President’s threat to again shutdown our government is unacceptable.
Anatomy of the Shutdown
We should not forget that, in the days just before Christmas last year, President Trump and Senate Republican Majority Leader McConnell forced essential agencies of our federal government to partially shut down. Their rationale was that the Congress must bend to this President’s demand that the American people foot the bill for his campaign promise of a wall along our nation’s southern border.
There has always been far more at stake in this standoff than the wisdom of a border wall. Nevertheless, there are aspects of the border security debate that are worth clarifying.
Before the shutdown, President Trump publicly declared that he would be “proud” to shut down our government if he did not get what he wanted. By all appearances, he was unmoved by the widespread hardships and public dangers that such an action would almost certainly cause.
For more than a month of hobbled government prior to last Friday’s armistice, 800,000 federal employees had their paychecks delayed. Critical federal programs and services – including air safety and food inspection services – were weakened, and our economy was imperiled.
Every day that this shutdown continued, the more than 23,000 Maryland-based federal employees who were furloughed or working without pay struggled to put food on their families’ tables, pay their rent or mortgages, cover their medical expenses, and pay their other essential bills.
Anyone who listened to their financial plight and frustration could not help but be moved. Their faces were in my mind when I voted for legislation, now the law, to provide federal employees with back pay once the shutdown ended.
Why We Must Never Allow our Government to be Held Hostage
Our federal employees and all Americans deserve to know why we Democrats did not simply give in to the President’s demands.
They deserve to know that, since this shutdown began, I, along with other congressional Democrats, voted multiple times to enact legislation that would reopen the government – and that, now that our government is again open and functioning (at least temporarily), we Democrats will negotiate in good faith with the President and his Republican allies on border security.
We Democrats have always been prepared to protect our borders. In fact, in January, House Democrats passed and sent to the Senate legislation to re-open the government that included an additional $1.6 billion in key border security-related measures.
What we Democrats were not prepared to do is to allow this President, aided and abetted by a compliant Senate majority, to hold the people and government of the United States hostage to his campaign rhetoric and political whims.
Here is why.
Last year, the American people voted for a substantial Democratic majority in the United States House of Representatives. They did so, in large part, to restore the checks and balance in our national government – and, specifically, to establish a check on a President of whom most Americans do not approve.
The American people understood that the congressional “power of the purse” is even more essential to the democratic functioning of our Republic when a President (Donald Trump), who does not enjoy majority approval, asserts a proposal (the wall) that lacks majority public support on questionable and disputed factual assertions.
In 2017-2018, compliant Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House allowed this President to do most of what he wanted. Our national elections last year changed that equation to restore balance in our government by placing a check on this President.
This is the context in which we Democrats concluded that we must not give in to President Trump and his Republican allies. We realized that we were negotiating a hostage situation that is far more profound than any debate about the importance of a wall.
We had every reason to believe that, if we were to concede on the wall to end this hostage situation, the President would soon do the same thing again – with even more disastrous and far reaching consequences.
In just a few months, the Congress and President must enact legislation to raise the debt ceiling on borrowing by the federal government. If we were to fail to enact the authority to pay the obligations that our government has already incurred on our behalf, the “Full Faith and Credit” of the United States, the stability of our economy, and every American family would be harmed.
This is why this President and his Republican congressional allies had to be taught now that there must be limits to the President’s ability to successfully take the American government hostage and bend the Congress to his will.
Now that President Trump and his Republican allies have agreed to reopen our government, we Democrats can and will negotiate with them in good faith about border security or anything else they wish for us to consider. Hopefully, our lesson to them has been made clear.
The government of the United States is not a bargaining chip in one of President Trump’s casinos. We will not tempt this President to ever take the American government hostage again.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents the 7th Congressional District of Maryland in the United States House of Representatives.
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