Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri has an important opportunity to lift the country out of the quagmire that shut down parts of the government during the past month.
Blunt is on the 17-member bipartisan conference committee assigned the difficult task of finding compromise on border security and government funding. He’s the only lawmaker from Kansas or Missouri on the panel, which began its work Wednesday.
Congress must finalize a deal by Feb. 15, or the government could shut down again.
Blunt is a legislative veteran and is smart enough to know a deal is possible. To reach one, though, he and the other members will have to push President Donald Trump to the sidelines by crafting an agreement congressional Republicans and Democrats can support.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
The early signs are not good. “Obviously we support what the president’s trying to do,” Blunt told Politico.
That is the wrong approach, for two reasons: One, Congress is, or should be, a coequal branch of government, a fact Blunt knows. If enough members approve a compromise, the president can be made irrelevant.
And two, Trump has repeatedly shown his unworthiness as a negotiator. He routinely changes his mind, lacks a mastery of policy details and is sadly prone to bending to political pressure from the right-wing commentariat.
Trump said he would take responsibility for the most recent government shutdown, then blamed others. In December, he supported a bill to keep the government open, then turned around and trashed it. He falsely said Mexico would pay for the wall (his attempt to squirm away from that promise now illustrates precisely why he can’t be trusted).
Trump has threatened to declare an emergency and begin building a wall if the committee fails to reach an agreement. Fair warning: The next president will feel free to use that tool, too, and representative government will continue to erode.
Blunt and his colleagues should pay little attention to the White House and should reach an agreement both parties can support.
The outlines of a deal are known. Democrats have hinted at support for some type of security barrier on the southern border — a fence, perhaps. They’ve also supported additional funds for other security efforts.
In exchange, they’ve asked for solid protections for so-called Dreamers — undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. at a young age by their parents. There is broad public support for such protection.
The committee can approve some limited spending for a fence or barrier and let Trump call it a wall. It can approve serious protections for Dreamers and let conservatives whine about amnesty.
That’s what adults in a room would do.
We disagree with Sen. Blunt on plenty of issues, but he is an adult. He should take a leadership role in crafting a measure giving all sides some of what they want. Then Congress can endorse it, putting the sad spectacle of a government shutdown in the rear-view mirror.
If not — if the committee cedes responsibility to our mercurial, distracted president — the government will close again, and Congress will continue its slide into irrelevancy. The American people don’t want that, and neither should Sen. Blunt.