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Ding-dong the witch is dead, and the nation’s longest government shutdown is over.

Whew! Finally! High-fives all around. Some 800,000 federal workers – many of whom live paycheck to paycheck – are back to work. And those who have been working without pay, such as airport security officers, will get real cash, which is by Yogi Berra’s definition “just as good as money.”

Of course, let’s not get too carried away with these end-of-shutdown celebrations. It all can go “poof” on Feb. 15 if President Trump doesn’t get $5.7 billion in funding for the border wall, a centerpiece of his run for the presidency. In fact, he didn’t get any funding for the wall.

Pundits say that Trump caved and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats won. Don’t believe it. Trump has spent much of his life getting his way on just about everything, and he’s not one who takes losing gracefully. If he doesn’t get the funding he wants for the wall, then 800,000 federal employees will be back to where they were just a few days ago. He also could bypass Congress altogether, declare a national emergency, and get the thing built anyway.

These are strange times, and a big culture shock for Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher. He’s been in office for just a few weeks, but already has experienced a lifetime education on Washington politics. As with other freshmen, Fulcher entered Congress with lofty plans to bring a new and better approach to the process. All he has seen so far is politics at its worst.

Fulcher and others had an idea for avoiding the shutdown in the first place: Keep Trump and Pelosi far away from the negotiations, and from each other.

“We’d have it solved in a couple of hours,” Fulcher said. If there had been an up-or-down vote on Trump’s recent “compromise,” Fulcher is convinced it would have passed with a generous amount of Democratic support.

But with Trump and Pelosi as the lead players in this nasty political environment, nothing is – or will ever be – simple. And “logical dialogue” will be left to the nation’s coffee shops. The rift, Fulcher says, goes far beyond the border wall.

“There is a hatred that is so thick that you can literally cut it with a knife,” Fulcher says. “That hatred is overshadowing everything.”

Thank goodness, there’s much more civility among freshmen members. Democrats may not like Trump, but they dislike government shutdowns even more.

“The Democrats largely come from districts that are urban in nature and are heavily dependent on federal employees,” Fulcher said.

Fulcher says there’s plenty of blame to go around for the shutdown. Pelosi was unwilling to carry on the dialogue with the president, and Trump did not make it easy for her – or anybody else – to do so.

“The president is not shy about tossing a bomb, and the speaker is the same way. They both have that in-your-face style and it’s a match made in hell,” Fulcher said. “I’ve often said that you never go into a room with your middle finger extended. You just don’t do that. Well, he does have the capacity to do that.”

For now, the waters in Washington are calm. The three longtime GOP members of Idaho’s congressional delegation – Second District Rep. Mike Simpson, Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch – are pleased with the outcome.

“When we come together and put partisan disputes aside, we can begin to govern in a way that will make the American people proud. I remain committed to finding a long-term solution for funding for the rest of the fiscal year, including appropriate border security measures,” said Simpson.

“We need to take advantage of this agreement time frame to come to a long-term solution about securing our southern border,” said Crapo.

Risch also expressed his support for border security. But Risch, a co-sponsor of legislation to permanently prohibit government shutdowns, says there is a lesson that can be learned from this ordeal.

“Government shutdowns are never the answer,” he said.

Well stated. And federal workers should not be used as political pawns in every instance in which lead Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on the time of day.

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Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com

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