Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, addresses the executive council winter session of the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C., on February 12, 2019. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Rep. Tom Cole: Government shutdown averted with compromise in Washington

Finding a Good Compromise
By Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma)

Both sides agree that government shutdowns are bad for the American people, bad for government and bad for policy making.

After a painfully and unnecessarily long partial shutdown earlier this year, I am encouraged that last week Congress and President Trump worked together to avoid another lapse in funding and provide for some of the nation’s pressing needs.

Looking back on the last several months, it’s been a long and complicated road toward good faith negotiation and finding a good compromise. To review, Congress fully funded 75 percent of the government at the end of September, which marked the first time in 22 years this had occurred before the start of the fiscal year. Unfortunately, despite this great success, agreement could not be reached on the remaining 25 percent of annual funding when a short-term measure expired toward the end of December.

There are 12 federal funding bills that must be passed on an annual basis, and seven of those bills made up the outstanding 25 percent. It’s worth mentioning that six of the bills were previously negotiated with the Senate and basically ready to move for final passage months ago. But the sticking point was the seventh bill and how to handle the issue of border security, including the president’s request for some physical barriers and security improvements at the southern border.

While Republicans in both chambers supported the president’s modest funding request to strengthen border security, it was only the House that could successfully pass legislation to fulfill it—before the partial government shutdown began. Considering that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have acknowledged fixes are needed to better secure the border, it was disappointing that Democratic Senators withheld their votes when the opportunity came to provide for those improvements back in December. As a result, the dispute carried into a new Congress that also marked a new era of divided government.

Unfortunately, the length of the shutdown broke records as House Democrats wasted time on political games and nonstarter legislation instead of coming to the table for good faith negotiation. Looking past their drama, the president reopened the government for three weeks to force participation in bipartisan, bicameral discussions on a funding deal. I am proud that the designated negotiators were successful in finding a compromise that appealed to both sides.

No one can get everything they want in divided government, but the funding package does give the American people what they need—certainty for the rest of the fiscal year, enhanced border security and adequate funding for vital government services. It passed both chambers of Congress with strong support and has already been signed into law by the president.

Even though it was a longer road than preferred or expected, I am glad that we did eventually resolve our differences to fully fund the government and better secure our border. To get anything done moving forward, lawmakers must continue to carry the same spirit of bipartisanship, especially when it comes to funding for the government.

If we don’t, it could unfairly bring about more difficulty and hardship for the American people.

Tom Cole, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, is serving his eighth term in Congress as the elected representative of Oklahoma's 4th Congressional District. He is recognized as an advocate for taxpayers and small business, a proponent for a strong national defense and a leader in promoting biomedical research. He is considered the foremost expert in the House on issues dealing with Native Americans and tribal governments. He and his wife, Ellen, have one son, Mason, and reside in Moore, Oklahoma.

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