Thursday, December 13, 2018

Nobody wins shutdown smackdown -- Dec. 13, 2018 column


Oh, the drama! The intrigue! The suspense!

President Donald Trump threatens to shut down the federal government just before Christmas if he doesn’t get $5 billion to build his border wall.

“I am proud to shut down the government for border security,” he said Tuesday during a testy, 17-minute, on-camera exchange with Democratic leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

Trump orchestrated live reality TV from the Oval Office when he invited Schumer and Pelosi to negotiate, then argued in public and violated the cardinal political rule of a government shutdown: He owned it. 

“I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it,” Trump said.

After pledging to make Mexico pay for the border wall, Trump asked Congress for $25 billion to build it. Congress appropriated $1.6 billion for fencing. Senate Democrats have offered to extend the current spending, but House Democrats are balking at more than $1.3 billion.

Trump’s strategy, if he has one, is baffling congressional Republicans who would share blame if a shutdown occurs.

“I’m on the record saying numerous times I think a shutdown is a fool’s errand. Every shutdown we’ve been in, nobody wins. So I’m very discouraged by that,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, The Washington Post reported.

Schumer and Pelosi stood their ground at the meeting, a sign of the tempestuous times ahead in divided government.

“The American people recognize that we must keep the government open, that a shutdown is not worth anything, and that we should not have a Trump shutdown,” Pelosi told the president.

All this makes for riveting TV but terrible government. Funding gaps lead to shutdowns when our leaders fail to do their constitutional duty. 

“No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law,” Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7 of the Constitution says.

Shutdowns literally show us a government that doesn’t work.

During the October 2013 shutdown, private citizen Trump tweeted: “Government is shut down yet Obama is now harassing the privately owned @Redskins to change its name. He needs to focus on his job!”

Shutdowns actually cost taxpayers. Agencies take their systems down and bring them back up. They send workers home on furlough but eventually pay them for the days they were idle. Millions of dollars in fees go uncollected.

After the 16-day shutdown in 2013, furloughed workers received an estimated $2.5 billion in pay and benefits, the Office of Management and Budget reported. The National Park Service estimated the shutdown cost $500 million in lost tourist revenue to the parks and surrounding communities, OMB said.

We shouldn’t be at the precipice again. Congress has passed and Trump has signed five of the 12 spending bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, funding about 75 percent of the government through next September.

So, if there is a shutdown, only 25 percent of the government would be hit. Defense would be unaffected and Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid recipients would get their benefits. But Congress still must pass the remaining seven bills by midnight Dec. 21 or risk angering millions of Americans deprived of services.

The way out is through old-fashioned, unsexy, effective compromise. Trump should agree to a path to citizenship or legal status for more than 1 million “dreamers,” young people who were brought to this country illegally as children.

Democrats, despite their hatred of the wall, need to show they care about border security with increased technology and personnel and even building segments of the wall -- in places that are not environmentally sensitive.    

Polls, unsurprisingly, show people polarized on the issue. Fifty-seven percent of Americans overall want the president to compromise and avoid a government shutdown, but two-thirds of Republicans want him to stand tough, an NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist Poll reported this week. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told reporters he’s “hoping for a Christmas miracle” to end the standoff and avoid a shutdown.

We don’t need a miracle. We just need Congress and the president to do their jobs.

(C)2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


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