Whatever case the president makes Tuesday night for his border wall and why it's justifiable to shut down the federal government over a spending project that polls show a majority of Americans do not support, we hope he follows a previous Republican president's lead and works to make Washington both more efficient and less dysfunctional in 2019.
Trump has often compared himself and his promise to "drain the swamp" in Washington to Ronald Reagan and his vow in 1980 to revive a moribund U.S. economy through smaller government and lower taxes. Many remember the line from Reagan's first inaugural address: "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."
Yet fewer Americans remember these three lines, which came later in Reagan's address: "Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it is not my intention to do away with government. It is, rather, to make it work – work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it."
We applaud Trump for his economic initiatives – including lowering corporate and income taxes, and swift and targeted deregulation that has spurred business investment and confidence – but his misguided tariffs and the degree of dysfunction within his administration, and now government itself, threatens to outweigh what has been positive economic news in his first two years.
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Government shutdowns, no matter the reason, are historically not good for the American people or the politicians in power. Over the past 25 years, we've seen three previous shutdowns: two forced by the GOP over spending reforms in 1995-96 and over Obamacare in 2013, and one forced by Democrats over immigration reform and an attempt to shield some 700,000 Dreamers in the U.S under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
The last of these lies at the heart of the current shutdown and could allow both Trump and the new Democrat-controlled House to resolve the standoff. Trading permanent status for DACA immigrants already in the U.S. for greater "border security" rather than a "border wall" could resolve the current standoff.
Yes, elections matter, and Trump ran on the promise of a concrete "wall" on the southern border. But, like the majority of Americans, we don't believe erecting an actual wall that runs along the entire 1,954-mile border would be fiscally prudent or effective in keeping illegal immigrants out. As Texans, we know full well that most unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. come here legally and overstay their visas. The solution lies not in a wall to keep them out, but in comprehensive immigration reform forged through compromise among our elected officials. That means you, Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump.
Sadly, the climate in Washington has reached an all-time low, with both sides viewing the other not as an honest broker but as a foe to be defeated. The worst outcome would be for Trump to announce he is using the president's emergency powers to secure the $5.6 billion he is seeking to build the wall. As he said last week, "We can call a national emergency and build it very quickly. But if we can do it through a negotiated process, we are giving that a shot."
This appears to be a hard-nosed negotiating tactic straight out of The Art of the Deal. But what Trump and his most vehement congressional opponents seem to have forgotten is that in Washington compromise is supposed to be reached for the good of the American people, not for one political party or the other.
Call us naive, but we still believe there is a way out of the current showdown, and a fix for our broken immigration system – if only, as Reagan told us nearly four decades ago, our elected officials understand that their obligation is not to "do away with government" but rather "to make it work."