US President Donald Trump is using a government shutdown to pressure Congress in order to obtain funding for one of his policy priories. It happens to be $5 billion for a section of wall along the US-Mexican border. For Trump, victory means looking like he won the fight, not necessarily getting the funds he seeks. No cost is too great. It does not matter how much it costs or who the government shutdown hurts as long as Congress submits to Donald Trump. Congressional Democrats are not willing to yield while Congressional Republicans are trying to get up the nerve to criticize the Republican President. For his part, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell abdicated his responsibility in the affair. To get his way, President Trump is selling the drama by telling the world the shutdown could last for months to years. Professional media outlets are helping him by showcasing the worst-case scenarios of the shutdown. As the President, Donald Trump has the power to end the shutdown with a simple signature, but it is not the President who, ultimately, has the responsibility to end the shutdown. It is Congress and members of Congress have the power to do it without him.
The US President is given the power of a veto to prevent the Legislative Branch from enacting undesirable legislation before it becomes law. It is a means for the Executive Branch to hold Congress responsible when it simply passes whatever bill it can force through both chambers. By the circumstance of the President having this power, he is able to strongly influence the public policy priorities of Congress. Although there are Presidents who are more legislatively-active and those who are more legislatively-passive, the US President is not supposed to be the one dictating legislative priorities. As an elected official who leans highly toward his conservative base, Donald Trump should be very passive when it comes to legislative matters. He certainly should not be shutting down the government over a relatively trivial public policy priority. If he was going to shutdown the government, a truly conservative Trump would have done it over the failure of Congress to devise their own legislative solutions to key issues.
Congress is both responsible for public policy and the budget. The job of the US President is to act as an executor. His job is to literally enact the legislation of Congress. If the Executive Branch of the US government truly followed the intent of the US Constitution, the government shutdown over border wall funding would be over the lack of a Congressional solution. President Trump would be calling on Congress to devise a solution of its own making for border security in general. The President would then decide whether or not it was a necessary and proper public policy. In fact, the President would not have resorted to using a shutdown. A government shutdown would have been reserved for funding deadlocks. Instead of using a Congressional surrogate to bring a Presidential priority to the attention of Congress, which would be the path taken by more conservative leaders, President Trump forced his will onto both chambers of Congress. When members of Congress ignored the President’s demands for action and his policy prescription, he used his veto to usurp the legislative process.
In the eyes of President Trump, Congress is an unruly government institution undertaking insurrection against his authority. The simple truth is that the President is the one overstepping Constitutional boundaries. It is Donald Trump who needs to be put in his place, not Congress. In defense of the current President and past Presidents, Congress has been shirking its responsibilities for decades by either ignoring problems or transferring Congressional powers to the Executive Branch. It is, therefore, necessary for members of Congress to take on their duty as legislators and stand up to the President of the United States. Congress must come together as a body and fulfill its responsibilities. Trump wants to get tough on Congress, but Congress needs to get tough on the President and its own members. Instead of relying on Trump to bless a legislative solution palatable enough to pass both Houses of Congress, Congress needs to find its own way around the Presidential veto.
Fortunately, the US Constitution provides a means for Congress to override a President’s objections. It simply requires two-thirds of US Congressmen and two-thirds of US Senators to vote in favor of legislation. For Trump, the border wall funding impasse is as much about power as it is about the need to deliver on promises to supporters and secure the border. The President is so driven by the need to win that he is willing to fabricate a national emergency in order to secure funding for his wall. This makes it unlikely the President would be willing to accept anything short of what he demands. For Congressional Democrats, caving into the President’s demands would undermine their political support and encourage him to intensify his use of heavy-handed tactics in pursuit of his agenda. For Congressional Republicans, their continued capitulation to the President undermines their ability to enact their own public policy priorities and act on their Constitutionally-granted powers. In short, members of Congress need to overcome the artificial partisan divide in government to unite and develop their own solution to the budget impasse.
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