Jose Luis Magana, AP
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., returns to the Capitol from the White House as President Donald Trump demands funds for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Friday, Dec. 21. Trump is imploring McConnell to change the Senate's rules in order to pass the spending bill.

The ongoing government shutdown won’t take care of itself. Passing the requisite spending bills to fully fund the government hinges on true leadership, open debate and real votes, none of which is happening.

Congressional leaders could wrap up the mess in a single day if they wanted — and not just with another continuing resolution. A real solution is absolutely possible. It would take time, sacrifice and compromise, but Americans deserve nothing less than elected officials who are willing to do their job. That kind of leadership might look something like this:

With cameras rolling and no closed-door meetings, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would call the Senate into session and lock the door to the chamber. Before he called a vote on the House bill that includes $5 billion for President Trump’s border wall, he would remind the body of the bipartisan support for better border security and streamlined immigration processes. He would also remind Democrats they supported a border fence plan worth $8 billion under President Obama’s tenure.

McConnell would then make a motion to move forward with the bill, a move Democrats would almost certainly block. Then the majority leader would counter with an initial compromise bill, one with less border wall funding, say $4.5 billion. This would also likely fail as Republicans would not have the 60 votes required for passage. On they would go — voting, debating, lowering the funding, compromising — until either Republicans and Democrats agree to the measure and send the bill to the president, or they reach an impasse, after which the majority leader could invoke an arcane set of Senate rules to allow a simple majority vote on the legislation.

The specifics aren’t as important as the process legislators follow. The country needs to see its public servants at work, and the hard work of governing is most often found in open, honest and public debate.

For McConnell to say “no further votes will occur until the president and Senate Democrats have reached an agreement,” as he did last week, is an abdication of leadership. Forcing votes moves ideas forward and obligates legislators to defend their position or counter with a better solution in the light of day and in front of their constituents.

The shutdown will not end until there are votes. Votes will not happen until members are on the floor, and McConnell has the power to call the Senate into session whenever he chooses.

As the current situation stands, both parties will likely benefit from fundraising as they point fingers and make pleas to their donors. Expect emails from Democrats soliciting donations by depicting Republicans as heartless hardliners. Republicans may counter with fundraising emails categorizing Democrats as socialists. Millions of dollars could be raised before the shutdown ends — enriching political parties and special-interest groups but doing nothing to open government or close loopholes in a broken immigration system.

46 comments on this story

Dragging out the shutdown hurts the 420,000 essential government employees continuing to work without pay, as well as the 380,000 furloughed employees now temporarily out of work. But ultimately it hurts the democratic institutions designed to govern America. Members of Congress have been elected to find solutions, not just to their own political issues, but to the nation’s problems. Congress should immediately be called into session and show the country the world’s greatest deliberative body is still capable of governing.