Weekly Columns

Washington is unfortunately on new ground as the existing partial government shutdown has now, regrettably, become the longest in U.S. history. The sense of urgency that lingered in previous shutdowns doesn’t exist because some government agencies were funded months ago, while others were first funded on a short-term basis before being shut down in the absence of a larger funding agreement. It’s past time for the White House and leaders of both parties of Congress to come to the table and reach a deal to open the government and eliminate the existing uncertainty that federal employees, Arkansans and all Americans who rely on shuttered agencies are experiencing.

Hundreds of thousands of federal employees have missed a paycheck. President Donald Trump recently signed into law legislation that approves back pay for government workers, but they will not be compensated until the agencies employing them are funded. Other federal employees are working now and don’t know when they will be paid.  

In an effort to minimize the disruption, the United States Department of Agriculture reopened Farm Service Agency offices for three days to assist farmers and ranchers with existing loan services. The Internal Revenue Service is recalling nearly 60 percent of its employees to handle tax returns and refund payments. Elsewhere, the financial stress is taking a toll on Transportation Security Administration agents who, according to agency officials, are increasingly calling out of work because of financial concerns.   

Congress was set to adjourn the fourth week of January for an in-state work period, but that has rightfully been canceled because of the deadlock in Washington. I am hopeful we can use this week to negotiate and reach a compromise to fully open the government. However, the recent request by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to delay the president’s State of the Union Address, scheduled for January 29, until the government reopens is not acting in good faith to reach a successful deal. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he won’t bring a government funding bill to the floor that President Trump won’t sign. The exercise in the House to advance bills that the president won’t sign is not a solution to this problem. To resolve this impasse, compromise is necessary. 

I agree with the president’s call for increased resources to defend our border. We must provide the funds for increased manpower, technology and infrastructure—including roads for access, electronic devices for surveillance and fencing for deterrence. These measures will help reduce the number of illegal immigrants coming across our border in addition to combatting drug and human trafficking. An increase in resources had bipartisan support from Senate Appropriations Committee members for Fiscal Year 2019. It’s time to act on that. 

I will continue working with the president and my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to find a solution to end this uncertainty.