This much is beyond dispute: The U.S. Senate voted to keep the government open without funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall. So did the House.
That’s how government is supposed to function. You keep things running on one track, and negotiate policy on another. Like walking and chewing gum.
The only reason this isn’t happening now, the only reason the government has now entered its longest partial shutdown in history, is because President Donald Trump says so and his Republican Congressional allies — including most of the Louisiana delegation — are playing along.
Of course, the full story out of Congress is more complicated. The Senate bill to keep government funded, passed by unanimous voice vote, came at the end of the last Congress, after White House officials had signaled that Trump would sign such a measure. Trump then changed his mind. And the House, in its last days under Republican control, went along, passing a spending extension that included $5 billion for the wall, even though it was clear that there weren’t the requisite 60 votes in the Senate to concur.
This month the new Congress was sworn in, and the House, now under decisive Democratic control, voted to open government back up. This time it’s the Senate that won’t go along because Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to allow a vote on a measure that Trump won’t sign, despite support from some GOP senators who will face voters next year.
Still, the bottom line is pretty simple. Congressional Republicans could unite with Democrats and demand that government reopen, and even override a presidential veto, if they had the will. They clearly don’t.
This is not an academic exercise. Last week, some 800,000 federal workers, about half of whom are required to show up anyway, missed paychecks, and many are scrambling to cover basic living expenses. Among those deemed too essential to furlough but apparently not so essential that they deserve to get paid are TSA agents, Coast Guard employees, air traffic controllers and Secret Service agents. Gov. John Bel Edwards said last week that about 5,500 of the federal employees affected live in Louisiana.
And they’re not even the ones who are worst off. Federal employees will probably get back pay, eventually, but contractors who work for the government won’t be so lucky. This includes not only high-level professionals but low-wage workers who do outsourced food service and cleaning work.
The list of areas where the shutdown is affecting everyone else is too long for this space, but here’s a smattering:
National parks are getting trashed. Food inspections are curtailed. Farmers seeking subsidies to make up for losses caused by Trump’s trade policy have to wait. Immigration judges are on furlough, compounding a backlog of cases in an area that the whole mess would suggest is an administration priority. Federal money for shelters that serve domestic violence and child abuse victims is running out. Accident investigations, including the one into the horrible Florida crash that claimed the lives of five Louisiana kids, are delayed. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
There have been a few successful attempts find workarounds since the shutdown started. One, pushed by the Louisiana delegation, forced FEMA to reverse itself and keep issuing new flood insurance policies so that real estate transfers can proceed. Officials have also ordered the IRS to keep issuing tax refunds.
But that’s all a sideshow. You don’t need workarounds if you don’t create a situation that demands them in the first place.
And for what? For a wall that would basically be a symbol rather than a serious tool, according to many border experts, one that Trump is selling using wildly misleading claims. For an idea that violates the supposedly conservative principle of small government by demanding that private landowners along the border forfeit their property. For an idea that Trump somehow couldn’t get through Congress for the two years when his own party controlled both branches. For something he can call a win.
Can someone please explain who, exactly, is winning here?