We are 17 days into the Trump shutdown and with no end in sight it appears this will break the record for length of s shut down. This dubious distinction is no source of pride but rather further indication of the failings of our so-called leaders. President Trump stated on numerous occasions that he wanted this shutdown, so it is aptly named. Congress passed legislation in December by overwhelming majorities of both houses and that the President planned to sign. He balked at the last minute because of pressure from Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh. Trump accepted the inane ramblings of Limbaugh, an uneducated, inexperienced blowhard looking for ratings over the career experts and even his own Republican Congressional leadership. As Mitch McConnell stated, shutdowns are bad politics. I find myself in rare full agreement with him.
President Trump claims this is about our security. The shutdown has nothing to do with national security. There is no dispute over funding the Department of Homeland Security or the various agencies within that perform vital national security and border security functions. In fact, the shutdown is hindering their very efforts to keep us safe and enforce the law. If for some unforeseeable reason the shutdown was a necessary mechanism to fund the essential agencies that defend the nation, then that would be an important justification. However, that is not at all the case here. No, Trump’s shutdown is wholly based on desperate political gamesmanship. Republicans and Democrats in Congress all desire to fund the government, open the government, and ensure our essential services.
Only President Trump wants the government shut, using it as a shameful stunt to appease his extremist base. He and members of the administration shamefully spread mistruths about the situation at the border to try and garner support for his wall. The number of individuals here illegally has continued to decline. The overwhelming majority entered the country legally and overstayed their visas. Those suspected of links to terrorism tend to enter the country by airports, very few by the southern border. Most importantly, experts say the wall would not be an effective mechanism to improve or ensure border security. It is merely “red meat” for campaign rallies. The Department of Homeland Security, along with multiple intelligence and law enforcement agencies, continue to do an incredible job protecting the country.
It is unforgivable to use government shutdowns to conduct a policy fight. The President and Congress are elected to represent their constituents and to do the right thing for the country. Each election has consequences and support for specific policies, priorities, and programs will change after each. The American people, apparently 65%, oppose the Trump concrete barrier wall. It makes little sense for Congressional Democrats to vote in favor or wall funding. They continue to vote for border security funding, but not wasteful extravagance of a wall that will add substantially to our catastrophic national debt. Republicans have every reason not to support the wall but for their fear of finding themselves in the President’s cross hairs. But for Senate GOP leadership’s cowardice, they would pass the legislation to open government.
The paramount issue here is all the innocent, dedicated, hard-working federal employees not receiving their well-deserved pay. This is in no way a vacation for them. Many are forced to work, incurring associated costs such as gasoline, without being paid. Hundreds of thousands are forced to remain home, prevented from doing any work by law, anxiously knowing that important issues are stacking up in their respective offices. Many of them rely on each pay period to pay bills and support families. They cannot make mortgage payments, tuition payments, rent payments, utilities payments, or buy groceries. No taxpayer will receive their government refund, to which they are entitled, until the government re-opens and the IRS processes their returns. The same goes for small businesses, most of whom also rely on these refunds.
There are also thousands of people who had planned, purchased, and even begun vacations. For many, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see Washington, DC, New York, or any of the amazing museums, national monuments, and national parks throughout the country. This includes foreign tourists who are seeing first-hand the disgusting degradation of our politics. They excitedly arrive at any of our spectacular sights only to find the entrance closed with a sign announcing the government shutdown.
There were shutdowns during my career. As a supervisor, I was required to deliver them written notice of their furloughs during the shutdown. This unenviable and outright offensive task resulted in fear and despair amongst the workforce, including many outstanding career professionals. We could see the anxiety and consternation in their eyes. They all deserved better. Shame on you Mr. President and shame on Congress for allowing this to happen to good, decent people.
There will always be important policy battles in government. That is how freedom and democracy work. For some issues there will be strong consensus while others result in strong opposition. It is foreseeable, regardless of party control over the House, Senate, and White House, that all three will not always reach agreement on legislation. If there is no agreement, the choices are either to move on to other business, leaving that contentious issue for another day, or whether to try and strike a deal where each side can achieve a priority and/or sacrifice a priority. Shutting down the government is not a proper course of action, especially to address policy disagreements. Elections will help determine the will of the people. Even after an election there may remain strong disagreement. Well, if one side cannot convince the other side to vote in favor, then the legislation fails.
Congress is busy with many things, but they actually have few Constitutionally mandated requirements. The most important of those is to pass a budget and perform budget oversight over the government. Congress has abdicated this most critical of duties for decades by failing to pass actual budgets, adding unrelated legislation to force a vote, etc. The issue is that Congress continues to fail to pass actual budgets in favor of less effective continuing resolutions. Those keep the government open, but only serve to delay votes on important issues. As this is Congress’s most important duty, Congress should not be able to adjourn each year until they pass a budget.
Leaders need to ensure the process begins in earnest with sufficient time to get it done, to allow for proper debate, amendment, and votes to determine what provisions, priorities, and dollar amounts survive into the final legislation. Continuing resolutions may be necessary at times, but only if the budget process continues and Congress remains in session working on the budget. Members must remain is session until a complete budget is passed. Members must not get paid during any periods of shutdown along with the rest of the government. These measures will ensure action on the budget. Now get back to work and open the government!