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Federal government shutdown mustn’t set the tone for 2019

People visit the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday

People visit the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday as a shutdown affecting parts of the federal government appeared no closer to ending. Credit: AP / J. Scott Applewhite

Coming as it has at a time of year when much of the nation’s business naturally slows to a crawl, the partial shutdown of the federal government has been more of a political distraction than a national disaster for most Americans, with the 800,000 federal employees going without pay a notable exception. The worrisome question is whether it’s a one-off hiccup or a precursor to a level of continued gridlock and government ineffectiveness the nation simply can’t afford.

The Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in 2011 marked the end of significant progress in solving big national issues for the rest of Barack Obama’s presidency. Now the Democrats have managed the same play Republicans did in the tea party revolution, taking over the House in 2019 while the GOP has control of the Senate and Donald Trump in the White House.

The shutdown is likely to end once Congress comes back next year, perhaps with both sides claiming victory by massaging the gap between the $5.7 billion Trump wants for a Southern wall and the $1.3 billion Democrats are offering for “border security.” But what then?

The nation’s most significant challenges become more serious as they go unaddressed. The $3.5 trillion list of infrastructure needs grows as our roads, bridges, rails and tunnels decline. The national debt is about to hurtle past $22 trillion, or about $67,000 per American. Social Security is set to run out of money in 2034, Medicare in 2026. More than 140,000 Americans die from drug or alcohol overdoses and suicide annually. A lack of comprehensive immigration reform leaves employers without workers, leaves children who’ve grown up in the United States but were born elsewhere without stability and leaves the nation without security.

The shutdown can’t set the trend. Instead, the end of the shutdown must signal a return to governing by compromise amid the traditional give-and-take of a two-party system. — The editorial board