Editorial: Shutdown drama is getting wearisome

The Detroit News

Call this very familiar territory — with just a couple of days left to head off a partial shutdown of the federal government, the White House and congressional Democrats are in a standoff over how to spend taxpayer dollars.

If the government should close some of its doors and furlough 380,000 non-essential federal workers, it will be the 11th shutdown since 1980.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Vice President Mike Pence, President Donald Trump, and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer wait for a meeting at the White House December 11, 2018 in Washington, D.C.

In every case, the government has reopened in short order, and workers were compensated for their time without a paycheck.

So pardon the public if it greets this latest deadline drama with a shrug.

Using history as a guide, most Americans will feel little impact from a short-term closure of such federal departments as agriculture, education and justice, among others.

Still, the threat of a closure should make us mad as hell. No matter how many rascals voters toss out of Washington — and this past election brought a large number of new faces to Congress — the story line never changes.

The only way federal officials know to keep the government running is through brinkmanship.

Congress has not passed a proper budget since 2006. Since then, the norm has been to fund spending with a series of continuing resolutions.

Typically, Congress adopts a huge omnibus spending plan in a crisis atmosphere, such as the current one. That does not lend itself well to a debate of spending priorities, and helps explain why the United States in fiscal year 2019 will spend $1 trillion more than it takes in.

The inability to pass a regular order budget is perhaps the greatest symptom of government dysfunction.

Some suggestions have been offered for putting an end to these reoccurring crises.

Among the most promising is ending the filibuster for spending bills, allowing a simple majority to end debate on them in the Senate.

Congress could also restore some limited earmarks to give leaders the ability to buy a compromise by dangling funds for pet projects. That's not ideal, but it worked in the past.

Breaking this embarrassing cycle of lurching from one budget crisis to the next should be a greater priority in Washington than figuring out how to tag the other party with the blame for a shutdown.

Over the past day or so, some movement has been seen in the current showdown. President Donald Trump appears to be backing away from his demand for a $5 billion appropriation for a southern border wall.

At a briefing Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump has asked his cabinet secretaries to look for funding that could be used toward the wall, as a way to avoid a shutdown.

If Trump does back away from the $5 billion request, Democrats will be obliged to compromise, and this crisis will pass like all others before it, with a few days of drama followed by the wait for the next shutdown showdown.

We've said it before and likely will have to again: This is no way to run a government.