An Analysis By Michael Derek Roberts
Its been everywhere on the news – Government Shut Down! But very few people understand what it is and what it really means. So let me walk you though the reality and realities of this issue and what you can expect in the next few weeks- providing that the Trump Administration and the U.S. Congress, particularly the now Democratically led House of Representatives, remain deadlocked, and how this will play out in the political theater and drama that’s gripped the nation’s capital.
Let’s start with a recent Rose Garden news conference and President Donald Trump’s reply about a safety net for furloughed federal workers, that was asked by a reporter. Here’s what President Trump said.:
“[T]he safety net is going to be having a strong border, because we’re going to be safe. … I really believe that these people — many of the people that we’re talking about, many of the people you’re discussing — I really believe that they agree with what we’re doing.”
But here’s one fundamental fact and the reality – no border, strong or otherwise, will pay the rent. Democrats are quite happy to oblige the president who once boasted repeatedly that “Mexico will pay for the wall.” If the Democrats hold the line, the president and Republicans in Congress cannot win this one. The fact is that the president had at least TWO BILLS sent to him that he was prepared to sign before his Conservative echo chamber urged him to make a 360 degree turn and reject his own party’s funding bills. His threat to shut down the government for “months or even years” is both empty and hollow, based on a very simplistic understanding of how the Federal Government – that he heads – works, and how this shutdown impacts not only the workers directly affected but those thousands of families and institutions caught in the ripple effects.
The White House is likely to cave like a house of cards when 800,000 plus federal workers stop getting paid and the hardships become a staple of local news coverage across the president’s voter base that he’s pandering to in the most reckless manner. Base politics is a narrow and unpredictable thing because its fickle and subjective in the short run.
Here is the reality.
• More than 80% of federal employees live and work outside the Washington metro area. (many in the president/Republican base areas).
• The N.Y. Times, in a recent post entitled “What the Shutdown Would Look Like if It Happened in Other Industries,” claimed that the 800,000 plus federal employees furloughed or working without pay constitute “more than double the number of people who work for corporate multinational giant “Target” pegged at over 350,000 globally.
• Most federal workers are paid biweekly.
• The situation will get only progressively worse. “No pay may be provided for excepted [essential] work during the December 23-January 5 pay period until the lapse in appropriations has ended,” the federal Office of Personnel Management posted on its website.
As both sides of the shutdown jockey for public support and to dominate the 24/7 news cycle, the impact will continue to grow incrementally as members of Congress remain unable to reach a compromise over funding for President Trump’s “Mexico will pay for it” border wall.
The grim reality is that there is little “face saving” wiggle room in this impasse since both sides are locked in an intractable battle in the looming dawn of the 2020 Presidential Elections. The upshot is that it is unlikely that the government will reopen anytime soon.
To be sure the shutdown initially closed about a quarter of the government and delayed the pay of around 420,000 federal employees. Thousands of others have been forced to stay home, including government contractors who will likely never see any compensation for having to take off during the shutdown. Here are some of the ripple-effect negative impacts that this shutdown has had or will have as it drags on with no end in sight.
• A global weather conference with more than 4,000 attendees scheduled for January may be canceled if the federal government remains closed, according to Bloomberg Report. As a result, a number of contracts will be lost permanently.
• All Smithsonian Museums and the National Zoo will close will remain closed.
• The Environment Protection Agency has run out of money, and will furlough thousands of employees.
• The U.S. Department of Agriculture had announced payments for farmers who have been hardest hit by the U.S. trade war with China. But with the government remaining shut down for more than a week, farmers will not receive their promised checks and won’t be able to receive farm loans or disaster assistance, this according to the American Press (AP).
• The Federal Trade Commission has shut down or suspended investigations including a high-profile probe of Facebook.
• The Office of Personnel Management recently released a latter for furloughed government employees to use to request smaller payments from creditors or landlords. One version of the letter included the suggestion that employees offer “the possibility of trading services to perform maintenance…in exchange for partial rent payments.”
More Negative Impacts
As President Trump significantly raised his rhetoric on the government shutdown, new second time House Speaker Nancy Pelosi retorted: “How many more times can we say no? Nothing for the wall.”
These continuing barbs and jabs by both sites underscore the fact that this is a political fight, over roughly .1% of the federal budget, that has left hundreds of thousands without paychecks and some government functions largely paralyzed. This also includes tens of thousands of law enforcement officials, working without pay with no end in sight. SNAP recipients, food security non-profits and other public safety net programs that serve the poorest of the poor – including millions of children. Fact is, if this shutdown remain protracted things will get progressively worse. Among others affected:
• Federal immigration courts, which will have to pick and choose which cases to handle, pushing some years down the road as per the New York Times.
• Native American tribes will not get the payments since the federal government will not be able to meet treaty obligations.
• The IRS won’t pay out refunds or answer questions on taxes, even as tax season begins, according to CNN.
• The Securities and Exchange Commission, which is shut down while unicorn startups like Uber and Lyft prepare IPOs.
• Housing and Urban Development: “Public housing officials say they don’t know how long rental assistance payments will keep coming … a suspension could put millions of tenants at risk if the shutdown drags on into February.” According to NBC.
All of this while a “let’s see how far you can urinate” match continues in Washington between septuagenarian politicians acting on a stage built with their own competing versions of reality.