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Rep. John Curtis: This one act could put an end to future shutdowns

In this Saturday, June 23, 2018, photo, U.S. Rep. John Curtis speaks during a town hall meeting, in Cottonwood Heights, Utah.
In this Saturday, June 23, 2018, photo, U.S. Rep. John Curtis speaks during a town hall meeting, in Cottonwood Heights, Utah.
Rick Bowmer, AP

Washington, D.C., has reached a new low in terms of bipartisanship and working together for the good of the nation. It has been a month since several federal agencies’ funding expired — representing the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. This is an embarrassing moment for America and its elected leaders.

Although there is blame to go around for how we got into this position, since the shutdown began, I’ve been focused on how we can prevent this from happening again, and — more urgently — how we can get the government back open.

As thousands of federal employees — including members of the U.S. Coast Guard, TSA, Border Patrol, National Park Service and many others across the country — are either working without pay or have been temporarily furloughed because of Congress’ failure, I believe it is unfair and inappropriate for members of Congress to be paid while this continues.

On the first day of the shutdown, I sent a letter to the chief administrative officer of the House of Representatives to request my paychecks be held until the government is fully funded and all federal employees get paid again. I also introduced the No Work, No Pay Act to prohibit Congress from being paid during government shutdowns, because if we can’t do our most basic job of passing a budget and funding the government on time, we shouldn’t get paid.

I have long advocated for reforms in Congress’ clearly broken budget and appropriations process, and believe Washington should operate more like Utah and pass a baseline budget each year. For that reason, I joined with my colleagues to introduce the Government Shutdown Prevention Act.

This would permanently end government shutdowns by implementing an automatic government funding mechanism, similar to the structure in Utah, when Congress fails to pass a budget. To incentivize Congress to get its job done on time, the bill requires an initial 5 percent decrease in spending and an additional 2 percent reduction every 60 days until Congress passes a budget and responsibly funds the federal government.

Although this legislation will help us avoid future shutdowns, our current funding impasse must be prioritized: finding a solution that can pass the House, pass the Senate and earn the president’s signature.

Utahns are frustrated at the utter lack of urgency they see from congressional leaders, and for good reason. Those same leaders — on both sides — own this situation. And now they’re seeing the federal workforce being used as a pawn in a political game. On the one side is an executive committed to a campaign promise and on the other is an emboldened House majority intent on playing keep-away. The only way out is for both sides to lay down their arms and acknowledge that a continued shutdown is harmful to our country.

The request to secure the border is not unreasonable. In addition, I think everyone agrees that beyond physical infrastructure, our borders require enhanced technology, Border Patrol personnel, immigration judges and humanitarian assistance to be properly protected.

Moreover, an overwhelming number of bipartisan members, including the current leaders in the House and Senate, voted for legislation creating a physical barrier as recently as 2013. There must be a solution that can bring us back together and away from our partisan bickering.

This is not about policy, or even immorality. It’s about symbolism and political games. And the American people are losing. Congressional leadership and the president must find a compromise.

I stand ready to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find a solution to end this costly and wasteful government shutdown. I am hopeful that we can all move past these harmful political games and get serious about negotiating a good-faith agreement that responsibly funds the government and reasonably addresses critical border needs.