The Press Herald Editorial Board recently criticized my willingness to work with the administration, in addition to my colleagues in Congress, to bring an end to the government shutdown (“Our View: Collins should vote ‘no’ on Trump’s wall, not reward his hostage tactics,” Jan. 24).

Now that the government has reopened – and serious negotiations to reach a long-term agreement before Feb. 15 are underway – I thought I should tell you directly why I’ve always opposed shutdowns and why I felt it was so important to work with all sides to do everything I could to bring an end to this impasse.

As you have likely seen on the news or may have experienced personally, this stalemate caused real harm to the 800,000 federal employees and their families who struggled to pay bills without paychecks. It unfairly harmed those who needed help from closed government agencies, including low-income seniors and people with disabilities. It jeopardized the employment of Mainers who work for businesses with contracts with federal agencies that weren’t paying them. And it hurt our economy, which was damaged by the decline in consumer spending and consumer confidence.

Many other important functions of the federal government were also impeded, including operating our national parks; ensuring the safety of our food; refunding income taxes; fighting the opioid epidemic, and processing loan guarantees for small businesses and homeowners, to name a few.

I heard from numerous Mainers about these harmful effects. For example, the city of Portland contacted me to express alarm over the 1,700 housing vouchers serving 3,500 people that would have been affected on March 1. Physicians in Portland called about emergency shortages of critical drugs. I heard from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife employee in Belfast who worried that, without insurance, he would not be able to afford the soaring cost of insulin for his two children with Type 1 diabetes. I spoke with Transportation Security Administration employees in Bangor and Portland, who had difficulties paying their bills and had to take out loans or rely on family or friends. And I talked with members of the Coast Guard, which is so important to our state, who were not being paid despite being required to work to perform absolutely vital tasks.

These are just a few of the reasons why shutdowns are never justified. It’s why I’ve always opposed them, no matter which party controls the Congress or the White House.

During the past month, I met many times with colleagues on both sides of the aisle as well as White House officials to bring an end to this dispute and to mitigate its disastrous effects.

My No. 1 priority has been reopening government. And that’s why I voted for all the alternatives the Senate considered last week – because they would have reopened government. I would have supported any reasonable proposal that did so.

Although neither of the initial proposals passed, we saw glimmers of hope that paved the way for the breakthrough that ended the shutdown. After the failed votes, I joined a bipartisan group of 16 senators on the Senate floor, and each one of us indicated a commitment to compromise. On Friday, we saw real progress as the president, Senate and House agreed to reopen government. The new law I co-authored will ensure that back pay will be made to our federal employees as early as the beginning of this week.

But we are not yet finished. On Friday afternoon, I went to the Senate floor to urge the administration and both parties in Congress to negotiate in good faith and work to hammer out a compromise on border security so that we are not facing the same situation again on Feb. 15. I, for one, will keep working with my colleagues and with the administration to ensure that hundreds of thousands of hardworking, patriotic public servants stay on the job and that this is not just a temporary reprieve, but a permanent solution.

We owe it to the American people to avoid ever resorting to the shutdown of government again. It is never good policy. We must work together over the next three weeks to forge a compromise and show our country that we can govern effectively.

 

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