Commentary: Utah’s congressional delegation should put first things first

This originally appeared as an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune. 

Much of the commentary surrounding the federal shutdown in Utah has been unfailingly bipartisan, perhaps in an attempt to show our federal delegation what coming together looks like. Republicans and Democrats alike have decried federal workers going without pay, insisting that both sides are to blame and that compromise is the true solution to any problem.

I certainly appreciate the graciousness of those statements, and am not interested in being divisive for the sake of being divisive (or for the sake of one political party). However, I do not believe compromise is the panacea some Utahns might believe it to be.

In some circumstances, compromise is tossed about as a milquetoast solution to problems that can be solved far more simply. This record-breaking shutdown is one of those circumstances. It is a triage situation, and it deserves focused, immediate action. Allowing federal employees to feed their families should not require a compromise, because a federal shutdown is not an appropriate catalyst to nail out the details on multi-billion-dollar border security investments.

Good compromises require political willpower, but they also require clear heads. Long-term decisions should not be made in the midst of the crisis. When your house catches on fire, that is not the opportune moment to gather everyone to the table to decide what to do about the broken refrigerator. First, you put out the fire. Then you can get to work on important things that need fixing. Touting a broad compromise as the preferred solution during the heat of a crisis demonstrates a fundamental inability to prioritize in our congressional delegation.

In most cases, the truth may lie somewhere in the middle of two opposing viewpoints. But in the case of a house fire — regardless of who started that fire — the fault lies with whichever side holds the hose and then puts additional conditions on when and how the fire may be put out. The House has now voted six times to reopen the government, and Rep. Ben McAdams, the delegation’s only Democrat, is the only Utah representative who has voted in favor. Reps. Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart and John Curtis have each voted six times against Utah workers getting paid. They also voted against funding the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8, the express purpose of which was to “give time to come to an agreement about the border wall without continuing the shutdown.” They want a compromise in name, but not in substance. They want a hurried and a hostage compromise, a compromise born of desperation, not bipartisanship.

This feels like a replay of our federal delegation’s response to the family separation crisis last summer. Rather than supporting a bill that would simply have ended the horrific practice of separating children from their parents, our representatives bemoaned the situation, then voted for complicated bills that would have dramatically restructured our immigration law. Compassionate immigration reform is urgently needed in our county, but it is not more urgent than keeping families together.

Similarly, a decision addressing U.S. border problems is urgent. But not more urgent than allowing federal workers to get paid. It has been deeply disappointing to see our representatives repeatedly vote to keep 10,000 Utahns out of a paycheck because they believe funding a border wall carries the same level of urgency as allowing federal workers to buy groceries and pay rent.

To be sure, successfully serving in political office requires a magnitude of compromises. However, the ability to compromise should fall second to the ability to quickly solve simple problems. Funding the government is a simple problem. The GOP members of our federal delegation are showing their inability to prioritize, rather than their level headedness, by opting for a complicated compromise over a simple solution.

This originally appeared as an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune. 

Lauren Simpson is the policy director for Alliance for a Better Utah

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