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Editorial

Trump wants to use government shutdown to make Americans pay for wall

President Trump, before meeting with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday.
President Trump, before meeting with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump campaigned in 2016 on a promise to build a wall along the entire Mexican border, which he repeatedly claimed he would make Mexico pay for.

Congress should hold him to that.

Instead, almost since the day of his inauguration Trump has been demanding that US taxpayers foot the bill for a barrier — demands that culminated in threats this week to shut down the federal government on Dec. 21 unless he gets $5 billion toward construction.

The wall is a ridiculous, wasteful demand, and holding the rest of the government hostage to it would be more ridiculous still.

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Closing the federal government has evolved into a regular piece of political theater, but it should never be accepted. The impacts can be far-reaching. When the federal government closes, national parks close, and tourism-related industries suffer. Some government offices shut. Applications for certain types of federal permits can’t be processed. Federal employees don’t get their paychecks, which hurts not just those families but the economy that relies on their spending. Those impacts pile up quickly: After a 16-day shutdown in 2013, Standard & Poor’s estimated that it cost the US economy $24 billion and reduced economic growth by 0.6 percent.

Yet the president boasts that if a shutdown occurs, it’ll be his fault.

“I am proud to shut down the government for border security,” he said in a meeting on Tuesday with Democratic leaders.

His words undermined weeks of effort by congressional Republicans to cast blame on Democrats if the government closes. It was never a very convincing tactic: Democrats take control of the House in January, but until then, Republicans control the presidency and both houses of Congress and will have to own any failure to keep the government open.

It’s the Republican-controlled Congress that has refused to fund a wall, not Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.

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So what should Congress do in response to the president’s demand?

Reject his demand and focus on the real problem: America’s broken immigration system. Help Latin American countries whose internal instability is fueling northward migration, so that fewer people seek to cross the border illegally. Improve border security where it makes security sense, not where it makes political sense.

But Americans paying for a border wall for hundreds of miles in the middle of nowhere, or losing access to government services in a shutdown over such a silly plan? No way.