7 January 2019

Note From Norm: Divided Or Divisive

We are now  17 days into what is being called a “partial government shutdown.”

Is this the longest government shutdown in American history?

Not yet.  That record stands at 21 days.

Will it result in an outcome that Democrats or Republicans want?

It depends.

The President made it clear that he would accept a government shutdown if Democrats refused to provide $5 billion to build a wall along America’s southern border.

Democrats made it equally clear they weren’t going to give him the $5 billion he wants for the wall.

It’s the age-old paradox:  “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?”

With a national budget of $4.07 trillion, $5 billion represents .05 trillion of the overall budget.

Now, let’s be clear – $5 billion is a LOT of money.

But, in a national budget of $4.07 trillion it is an amount of money that most certainly shouldn’t shut down the United States Federal Government – even if only partially.

Which underscores that this debate has nothing to do with money.

The money, frankly, could be easily found in the myriad of federal government agencies and budgets without anyone batting an eye.

During my time in the United States Senate I supported multiple efforts to not only reform this nation’s immigration laws, but also to provide funding to secure our nation’s borders.

To me, it has been, and remains, a fundamental truth about a sovereign nation:  Borders matter.

We are currently lost in a forest of trees because few, on either side of this debate, are willing or able to see the forest for the trees.

Blocking the view is either an unstoppable force or an immovable object of a tree.

Until we find a way around that tree there will be little to ensure that we move this country forward in a meaningful way on this issue or nearly any other issue in the months and years ahead.

The United States is facing a host of challenges in the waning days of this decade.

Our federal deficit is unsustainable.

Threats from enemies both foreign and domestic are on the rise.

Global economic competition is getting fiercer as technology and traditional business models and institutions flounder.

Whether or not we spend $5 billion on a border wall won’t change the trajectory of America’s future.

How we resolve whether we spend $5 billion on a border wall will have an impact on the trajectory of America’s future.

We are at a pivotal point in American Democracy.

Democrats control the U.S. House.  Republicans the Senate.  And, there is a Republican President in the White House.

Necessity demands our political leaders find a way to work together to get things done.

Is it possible?

It’s hard to see how right now.

Nearly every breathing member of the Democratic Senate wants to be President of the United States.

Not one of them intends to work across the aisle anytime soon.

Newly elected Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi attempted to make nice with her inaugural speech from the floor of the House.

Yet, comments from members of her own party insisting their first priority be impeaching the President belie the bipartisan flavor of her remarks.

Americans need to look at where we are today and decide if that’s where they want America to be in the next month – next year – or next decade.

I’ve never accepted the narrative that our nation is as divided as the pundits or the press want us to believe.

Yet, if our political leaders in Washington, or throughout the state’s capitols of America, can’t find ways to solve problems, big and small, maybe I was wrong.

If those same political leaders can’t find ways to work together to take advantage of opportunities to strengthen our country, secure our borders, reform our immigration laws and a myriad of other things that would positively move our country forward into the future, maybe I am wrong.

Yet, being a divided nation doesn’t need to mean we are a divisive nation.

Political differences in America are as old as the nation itself.

Somehow, though, during the most bitter splits in our national identify we have found the way to move America forward.

Not even the most vicious Civil War could permanently tear our nation to pieces.

I have no doubt the government will reopen.  Nor do I doubt that both sides will walk away from the current partial shutdown claiming victory while declaring the other side lost.

Whether the end of the shutdown is the beginning of a new era of bipartisan cooperation or the beginning of a new era of partisan division remains to be seen.

This much, however, is for certain.  America can do better by being better at finding ways to work together to get things done.