Tribune editorial: Congress, and Romney, must hit the ground running

UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 13: Sen.-elect Mitt Romney, R-Utah, leaves a meeting with other new GOP Senators and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Capitol on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Seldom in this nation’s history has a new Congress come to town facing such an urgent need for action.

Thursday is the opening of the 116th Congress. It begins with a federal government that is in partial shutdown because its predecessor had not been able to agree — among its own members or with the White House — on the most basic responsibility it has, to pass the appropriations necessary for all government agencies to do their jobs.

Among the new leaders coming to Washington are two from Utah: Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams and Republican Sen. Mitt Romney. Both are in the majority party of their body and so have a chance to be part of a solution. Romney, particularly, has the potential to make an immediate difference, given his status as a not only a senator but also as an experienced and respected politician whose personal gravitas could well overcome his rookie status.

The main point of disagreement stopping approval of the necessary spending bills has been the insistence by the president and some members of Congress that the budget include $5 billion dollars for a particularly bad, expensive and pointless idea, a wall to separate the United States from Mexico. The president says the structure is necessary to stop a figment of his fevered imagination — a horde of dangerous brown people bent on overwhelming America with their drugs, diseases and disorder.

The fact is that illegal immigration has been on a downward trend for years. Many of those who are here without permission arrived legally but remained after — sometimes years after — the expiration of their visas. The well-known but little-understood “caravans” of people coming from war-torn Central American nations are, as required by American and international law, set on presenting themselves at border crossings and making application for asylum, not sneaking in through deserts or across rivers.

In none of those cases would a wall — a wall that would usurp private property, destroy fragile landscapes, harm wildlife and stand against centuries of America’s promise of a light onto the world — make any difference. Those who do wish us harm, or simply wish to slake our limitless appetite for illegal drugs, will find ways over, under or around any barrier that we can build.

The real threat to America is the ongoing shutdown of the government, along with the president’s threat to close legal border crossings, all of which promise nothing so much as a major economic slowdown.

Solving the immigration problem, bringing members of both parties and all interest groups together in a Grand Bargain, was a key promise of Romney’s campaign. His ideas have included increased border security, more enforcement of laws requiring that employers verify the immigration status of their employees and granting extended legal residency to undocumented residents who were brought here as children — the Dreamers.

All that is a good starting point for an agreement that would make meaningful progress on the immigration debate, giving all who want it a chance to claim progress, if not total victory, and get the government back in business.