Be glad your govern­ment is open for busi­ness

Dis­patches from the south

The Victoria Standard - - Commentary - HE­LEN DELFELD

There is no bet­ter sym­bolic end to 2018 for the United States than to crash out of the year with a non-func­tion­ing govern­ment. Yep, our govern­ment is shut down be­cause our Congress and our pres­i­dent can’t agree that they should pay for it.

There are at least three weird things about this shut­down.

One is that it is hap­pen­ing at all. Most gov­ern­ments re­gard it as cru­cial to con­tinue to pay their em­ploy­ees to do their jobs so they have some pro­vi­sion in case there is an im­passe of some sort. Many coun­tries con­tinue to fund things at cur­rent lev­els. Canada does a ver­sion of this. But since the U.S. has no such pro­vi­sion, fight­ing about the bud­get has be­come a peren­nial and very use­ful blud­geon for the two par­ties to beat each other up with.

The Democrats are gen­er­ally con­sid­ered more vul­ner­a­ble to this sort of “per­sua­sion.” Their ar­gu­ment is that the govern­ment serves needed pur­poses and that we need it to func­tion well. Vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple - the young, poorer old peo­ple, mi­nori­ties, stu­dents, sin­gle par­ents, women - have typ­i­cally been more aligned with the Demo­cratic party. The Repub­li­can po­si­tion on the other hand has largely been that we have too much govern­ment, that we pay too much in taxes. So, if no na­tional tragedies re­sult from a shut­down, in a way, it im­plies that Re­pub­li­cans are right. We don’t need that much govern­ment.

There are two things wrong with that logic. There might not be an im­me­di­ate na­tional catas­tro­phe, but there are in­nu­mer­able hu­man-scale catas­tro­phes re­sult­ing from the govern­ment not work­ing. More­over, the govern­ment has (to this point) al­ways paid back wages and other un­met bills later. This of­ten costs con­sid­er­ably more if, for ex­am­ple, a con­tract was vi­o­lated and late fees come due. Es­ti­mates are that shut­downs cost be­tween 20 and 30% more than busi­ness as usual.

We do this so of­ten that we’ve ac­tu­ally de­vel­oped a set of rules to al­low only part of the govern­ment to shut down while "essen­tial ser­vices” con­tinue. Some “essen­tial” work­ers, like those in the Army, con­tinue to get paid. Oth­ers, like Those Lovely TSA Agents At The Air­port That We All Know And Love, they’re re­quired to work but aren’t get­ting pay­checks. Maybe they’ll get back pay. Even­tu­ally. But their rents and mort­gages and Christ­mas bills are due. To­day.

An­other thing that’s weird is that this is ac­tu­ally the third shut­down this year. This par­tic­u­lar one is be­cause Trump is de­mand­ing fund­ing for his south­ern bor­der wall. Never mind that two-thirds of Amer­i­cans don’t want the wall. Or that a third of those who want the wall don’t want it badly enough to shut down the govern­ment to get it.

We’ve been shut­ting down the govern­ment more and more fre­quently over the decades, us­ing more and more dras­tic mea­sures to try to “win” against the other side. That’s to be ex­pected, as we have be­come in­creas­ingly di­vided by party more than any­thing else. Congress and the pres­i­dent used to agree on twoyear bud­gets, but no more, as that means they can’t use the bud­get as a weapon in be­tween. Lately, we’ve been fund­ing essen­tial com­po­nents of our bud­get on a three-month ba­sis, some­times less, be­fore wad­ing back into this ridicu­lous fray.

What's es­pe­cially strange is that both Congress and the pres­i­dent come from the same party. We nor­mally only have shut­downs when the pres­i­dent is from one party and the ma­jor­ity in Congress is from the other. Con­sid­er­ing the dif­fer­ent pri­or­i­ties of the par­ties, that makes some sense. But this pres­i­dent can’t per­suade enough peo­ple from his own party to back him on his de­mand for enor­mous fund­ing for a bor­der wall, much less the few Democrats it would take.

You want to know which Re­pub­li­cans gen­er­ally hate the idea? Yep, you guessed it, Re­pub­li­cans from the bor­der states the wall would be planted in. The wall is less pop­u­lar the closer you get to Mex­ico, and more pop­u­lar the farther away you are. That tells you some­thing. It’s not about pro­tect­ing scared, im­per­iled peo­ple fear­ing an open bor­der. Peo­ple in bor­der states want the bor­der more open than it is. A lot more open. Even Re­pub­li­cans.

So, for now, if your neigh­bours to the south want to go to a na­tional park or a mu­seum, or if they wanted to visit a pris­oner in a fed­eral prison over the hol­i­days, or some­thing hap­pens to their so­cial se­cu­rity check and they need to fix the er­ror, or if they are wor­ried the fac­tory up the river is dump­ing chem­i­cals, there is no one to an­swer the phone. But guess who keeps get­ting their pay­checks? The sen­a­tors. The congress peo­ple. And the pres­i­dent.

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