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U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, center right, and U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker, left, speak at the Lancaster County Government Center on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019, about new legislation to prevent future government shutdowns. With them are Lancaster County Commissioners Dennis Stuckey, center left, and Josh Parsons, right.

THE ISSUE

Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker met at the Lancaster County Government Center on Friday to promote legislation that would effectively end government shutdowns. As LNP’s Sam Janesch reported, their plan — which has “been introduced but come up short repeatedly for decades” — would “allow federal agencies to remain funded if Congress fails to meet its deadlines.” Smucker and Toomey are promoting bills that are similar, but have some differences in approach, Janesch noted.

This may make too much sense for Washington, D.C., where obvious solutions often fail to see the light of day. But of course lawmakers should pass legislation to defang shutdowns, effectively eliminating them as a means of swaying spending debates.

No president, including Donald Trump, should be allowed to attempt to get his or her way by threatening a government shutdown. But that was the path chosen by the president recently, as he fought for federal funding for a southern border wall for which he previously had promised Mexico would pay.

Federal workers shouldn’t be used as pawns; people’s lives shouldn’t be manipulated for political advantage; public safety shouldn’t be endangered by political games . But they sadly were. And they have been in the past, too.

So we support the efforts of Smucker and Toomey to discourage future shutdowns.

In our view, Toomey made a serious mistake in 2017 when he played a central role in pushing the GOP’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. He suggested that lowering tax rates would generate more tax revenue — when, in fact, the results have been decreased federal tax revenue and increased federal debt, putting at risk this nation’s social safety net.

On shutdowns, at least, he is advancing a more responsible view.

As Janesch explained, the plan Toomey has co-sponsored “would keep agencies funded at their current level for 120 days. After those first four months, funding would decrease by 1 percent and then another 1 percent after every other 90-day period that passes without an approved budget.”

Smucker’s bill “would continue funding levels, for the first 60 days, that are 5 percent less than what they had been before. After that, funding would be reduced by another 2 percent in each 60-day period without an enacted budget.”

Smucker said that gradual decrease in funding would exert more of an incentive to find a deal should a budget lapse. Full funding, Janesch reported, “could allow Congress to just let funding continue automatically without any changes.”

Janesch noted that other versions with different funding levels “also are floating around Capitol Hill — from lawmakers like U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, a Philadelphia Democrat, and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican.”

That Paul and Boyle are working on the same issue says something. We’re glad the lawmakers who represent us are taking the lead.

Janesch noted that the late U.S. Sen. John McCain introduced similar legislation in 1996 after the stalemates between President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich led to what was then the longest shutdown in history. It lasted 21 days.

The partial government shutdown of December and January blew past that record, lasting 35 days — and wrecking, in the process, some federal workers’ credit records and savings accounts. It also cost the economy $11 billion — of which $3 billion won’t be recovered, according to the independent Congressional Budget Office.

As we write Tuesday, the nation is on tenterhooks again, hoping that the spending deal reached in principle Monday night by congressional negotiators will hold up and win the president’s final approval.

According to The Associated Press, the agreement includes $1.375 billion to build 55 miles of new border fencing (rather than a wall). “The pact also includes increases for new technologies such as advanced screening at border entry point, humanitarian aid sought by Democrats, and additional customs officers,” the AP reported.

We hope these past fraught weeks finally have demonstrated to lawmakers the need for legislation like that proposed by Smucker and Toomey.

What may make the difference this time around is this: “It’s the fact that the public, I think, is just more fed up than ever before,” Toomey noted. “It’s a heightened level of public dissatisfaction with this dysfunction.”

A Jan. 27 letter to the editor from Robert Lowing, of Lancaster, conveyed that dissatisfaction.

He maintained that the president was “punishing innocent people” — including four civil servants in Lowing’s family — “to make his adversaries yield to his demands” on a southern border wall.

“This is not governing; this is holding families for ransom,” Lowing wrote.

Fran Spangler, of Lancaster, wrote in a Jan. 25 letter that “President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are acting like two kindergarten kids. All this pettiness needs to stop.”

Nick Castaldi, of Mount Joy, identified himself in his Jan. 24 letter as a “former federal employee who experienced this dysfunction firsthand.”

“Shutdowns,” he wrote, “are simply a terrible way of doing business, are no way to resolve budget disputes and, more importantly, cost the taxpayers dearly.”

James Barth, of Elizabethtown, wrote Jan. 22 that instead of passing a spending deal, members of Congress “would rather snipe at each other and play the blame game. The only reason presidents seem to have so much power today is because members of Congress refuse to do the job they were elected to do.”

And that’s just a sampling of the sentiments expressed in January letters to the editor.

So, yes, Toomey is right in noting public dissatisfaction.

When the government shuts down, it essentially hangs up a sign reading: “Closed because broken. Awaiting repair.”

The legislation being pressed by Smucker and Toomey is the repair our government badly needs.