February 19, 2019
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Federal shutdown is not a vacation, it is a failure of leadership

Alex Brandon | AP
Alex Brandon | AP
President Donald Trump shakes hands with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, as he departs accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence after a Senate Republican Policy luncheon, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday.

Let’s start with the stipulation that, from the perspective of people who are far outside Washington, D.C., it is shameful that our federal government is partially shutdown. This is a failure of President Donald Trump and Congress.

Inside the beltway, of course, this is all about politics. Trump thinks he is winning because his base of voters has solidified around his demand for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer think they are winning because their base of Democrats thinks the wall is a waste of money and are glad the two leaders aren’t giving in to Trump’s demands.

In the real world, hundreds of thousands of federal workers must still report to work even though they are not getting paid. Despite offers of help from banks, they worry about paying their bills. And basic federal government services, like protecting our national parks, fully inspecting food supplies and inspecting water treatment plants, chemical factories and other sources of pollution, are not getting done. Others, like security screenings at airports, are being compromised by a shortage of workers.

The hardship of unpaid workers is mocked by unhelpful comments from seemingly oblivious officials. White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said that furloughed federal workers are benefitting from the shutdown because they are essentially getting a vacation. He noted that many federal workers typically take time off around Christmas and New Year’s and, with the shutdown, they get to keep their vacation days for use at another time.

The shutdown is in its third week so, we’re thinking most furloughed workers would rather be working and getting paid. And certainly those who are working without pay would rather get paychecks now instead of having to wait for back pay whenever the shutdown ends.

Nearly everyone agrees that this unnecessary disaster should end. But solutions are in short supply in the capitol, especially as Trump holds fast to his demand that funding for a border wall be part of any package to reopen the government.

Many have pointed fingers at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for not bringing bills to end the shutdown to the Senate floor. In December, days before the partial shutdown began, the Senate approved a bill to fund government operations through Feb. 8. It did not contain funding for the wall. It was approved by a voice vote with no senator dissenting — though this is not the same as a unanimous roll-call vote.

In December, the House, then overseen by Republican Speaker Paul Ryan, added money for Trump’s wall to the bill and the Senate refused to pass the changed bill. After Democrats took over the House on Jan. 3, spending bills without wall funding, which were similar to the Senate-passed legislation, were passed.

Democrats, and a few Republicans, including Sen. Susan Collins, have urged McConnell to hold a vote on these bills. They may well pass the Senate, but Trump likely won’t sign them, and it is far from assured that enough Republicans would buck the president and his supporters and vote to override a presidential veto. So, this could be a futile exercise.

Likewise, Collins and others have supported another vote on a bill that was initially supported in the Senate last February that included $25 billion for border security along with a path to citizenship for young immigrants brought to the US as children, a group often called “Dreamers.” The bill was scuttled by Trump at the last minute.

If passed by the Senate and House, it would also likely be vetoed by Trump.

So, while it is hopeful that a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Collins, met Monday night to seek ways to reopen government, it seems unlikely that they will soon find a way to end this impasse, unless enough Republicans decide to stand up to the president’s unrealistic demands.

It should not take dire consequences to get Congress and the president to do their most basic job, which is to make sure the people’s government is fully operational.

 



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