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Editorial

Focus on more urgent issues, not wall

Congress was effectively shut down while it was distracted by the fight between President Donald Trump and Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi over a border wall and the partial government shutdown.

Significant costs were inflicted on the economy as a result. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the five-week partial shutdown trimmed $11 billion in real gross domestic product, with nearly a quarter of that amount permanently lost even though government workers are back at work and being paid.

Given what might be a temporary reprieve, Congress must quickly turn its focus back to legislating. One key piece of legislation that it must quickly address is a bill to rescue 130 financially troubled multiemployer plans. The Congressional Joint Select Committee on Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans failed to produce a bipartisan solution to the financial crisis in those plans before the holiday congressional recess, and every day of delay worsens their financial troubles.

Unfortunately, while it's likely that many of the members of the committee now might be able to focus once again on the search for an acceptable bipartisan solution to the crisis in the plans, some such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia are also engaged in trying to head off another government shutdown by developing a bill to fund the government that will be approved by both Congress and Mr. Trump. This could further slow the work of the committee.

The financial services industry can make its voice heard encouraging the Joint Select Committee to quickly get back to work on the multiemployer plan crisis. The standard of living for hundreds of thousands retired workers, and those soon to retire, will be affected by committee's work, and they need assurance that help is on the way.

The industry can also push the appropriate committees to work on the proposed Retirement Security and Savings Act that includes more than 50 provisions aimed at improving retirement plan coverage at small employers and for part-time workers. It would also reduce barriers to lifetime income options and allow employees to keep retirement savings in qualified plans beyond the current age limit of 70 1/2.

On both of these retirement-related issues, as with the border security issue that could shut down the government again on Feb. 15, compromise is needed. Border security is not the only issue facing the country, and in fact has less immediacy than the multiemployer plan financial crisis.

Without an agreement on border security that contains money for his promised border wall, Mr. Trump has threatened to bypass Congress by declaring a national emergency, or to shut down the government again.

We doubt border security truly poses a national emergency, but we'll leave the issue to legal experts for a final decision. But Pensions & Investments has no doubt that another shutdown would be a colossally bad idea. The stakes are much too high.

At almost $2 billion a week, the shutdown was a costly self-inflicted wound. The leaders of the government would be foolish to inflict another such wound on the economy — a wound that likely would be more painful because of the effect of uncertainty on government employees and those who rely on them.

The message to lawmakers and the president must be: Find a compromise. Do the jobs you were elected to do — govern on behalf of all Americans. Keep the government open.