The crisis is not at our southern border, it is in our nation’s capital. In their desire to separate us for political purposes, our government has lost its capacity to function. And if they cannot sort out 215 miles of border fence, how can we trust them to address even bigger and more complex problems. Like an underfunded public pension system that will almost certainly leave many retirees choosing between heating their home and filling their prescriptions, or the student loan crisis that leaves the average college graduate starting their professional life with over $37,000 in debt.
The President’s request simply extends 654 miles of existing fencing, a system of barriers that before the 2016 election was uncontroversial to Democrats. At the same time, the Republican proposal for new 215 miles of steel fencing does nothing to address a crisis or emergency because it will take over two years to build, assuming we can find the estimated 10,000 workers willing to relocate to the Rio Grande. Meanwhile, we already have 104 miles of fencing appropriated yet unconstructed. That’s right, our leaders shut down agencies like the Department of the Interior, and left Yellowstone National Park without services, when they can’t build the fencing they’ve already authorized.
For 191 years the government never shut down. Our leaders had differences but were more considerate enough of the next generation to seek compromise and move our country forward. Vice President Mike Pence suggested just such a compromise in the early days of the shutdown, when he proposed the sides split the difference. An agreement likely to leave both parties unsatisfied, but that is generally the mark of a fair compromise. Instead, both sides carelessly painted themselves into a negotiating corner, which they selfishly paint smaller with every day. Meanwhile, the rest of our Congress and Senate cowardly waits in silence, too worried where they stand in the political power structure to risk statesmanship.
We have a public pension system that is underfunded by $4.4 trillion dollars (the size of Germany’s entire economy), and in the case of our own state is a staggering $25,000 in unfunded public pension liabilities for each Wyomingite; a national crisis that should be obvious to every policy maker in Congress, and if left unattended will leave millions of school teachers, professors, firefighters, and other state and municipal workers without full retirement. Equally troubling, our social security system has no roadmap to find the $12.6 trillion it needs to cover a shortfall that will hit the living rooms of our retirees in a little over a dozen years. And we need look no further than our own Powder River Basin to see how easily private employers duck out from under pension obligations.
Instead of dealing with these problems today, our Congress and President are kicking the can down the alley, leaving the bill to the next generation, a generation of workers who already face a staggering $1.5 trillion in total student loan debt, unaffordable health insurance, and a job market that has gutted opportunities in rural states.
Our leaders in Washington have lost their ability to lead and govern because their priority is to divide us and win re-election. They have forgotten that our system of government requires compromise, not brinksmanship. That’s how we’re set up. That is the American way. What is at stake is not 215 miles of fence. The crisis is not at the border, it is whether we still have a functioning government.
David Dodson is a former Wyoming U.S. Senate candidate and and regular contributor to the Laramie Boomerang.