We're again inching to a partial government shutdown, and as Illinois residents who have been held hostage over political squabbling before, we think we have some some room to talk here. Our message to President Donald Trump and Democrats: This doesn't make any sense.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said there will be no money for the border wall Trump wants. A compromise bill is hung up in conference committee, and with talks just starting last week, there's a good chance we're going to have a repeat in February.
Trump has signaled all along he's not patient.
"We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier," Trump said after the government was reopened last month. "If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on Feb. 15, again, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the Constitution of the United States to address this emergency. We will have great security."
Illinois endured a painfully long period, from July 2015 to August 2017, with no budget. Only the barest of finances were covered, and our state slipped even further into a fiscal black hole that seemed to have no bottom. It was all so deeply embarrassing.
The stalemate was principally over the Democrat-controlled General Assembly refusing to play ball on then-GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner's calls for reform — a pledge in the famous "Turnaround Agenda" he campaigned on in 2014.
We still think Rauner was on the right track with calling for fixes to pensions and workers comp, but he balked on compromising. Democrats, led by the powerful and intractable House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, didn't go far enough in seeking structural fixes. They balked, too.
Only after Republicans crossed over did a budget pass and the senseless quagmire lift. When the dust settled, $15 billion in late bills had been amassed. State services were severely cut. The long-term impact of careening off the cliff are still being felt.
Rauner subsequently lost his seat in a Democratic wave.
In the case of Trump's campaign promises, we're not here to debate the merits of the wall, and we will point out that Democrats of all stripes have proposed various border security policies over the years. But because the name "Trump" is so closely attached to this issue now, even a faint whisper of border security is a powder keg for the left. Without the possibility of budging, the shutdown option emerges.
Politics aside, that's our bigger concern in all this. We don't think any president or governor — Republican or Democrat or anything else — ought to wield the shutdown for a piece of policy, however important it is deemed in the moment. Just the threat causes huge problems. And those in power know that.
Trump and Rauner made their millions outside the political arena, by using all-in negotiation tactics that benefited them. This isn't that arena. Rather than personal wealth taking a hit, it is taxpayer money and public workers potentially caught in the cross-hairs. A total of 800,000 federal workers were furloughed during the last shutdown. Some didn't get paid at all.
We strongly support efforts to drive down government spending and redundancies in the interest of financial responsibility, just as a business would. But not paying bills is fundamentally wrong. It's abhorrent to leave vendors out to dry. It's immoral to have someone work without being compensated. It can't be rationalized to have employees be a bargaining chip in some far-off political discussion. No other business would operate this way.
The "slippery slope" argument is that you may agree with not compromising on this issue, but what about the next chief executive? What will the next president or governor shut down the government for? What will that issue be?
Let the story of the 793-day Illinois budget impasse be a lesson.
We don't have anything to show for it.