6 emer­gen­cies more im­por­tant than a wall

Trump should be deal­ing with crises that are real

USA TODAY US Edition - - OPINION - Paul Bran­dus

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump says that if Con­gress doesn’t give him money for his bor­der wall, “prob­a­bly I will do it. I would al­most say def­i­nitely.” He’s talk­ing about declar­ing the sit­u­a­tion on the Mex­i­can bor­der a na­tional emergency, so he can fund the wall with­out Con­gress. I hope he doesn’t, be­cause it’s not a real emergency. If it were, there would be no need for the steady stream of ex­ag­ger­a­tions, dis­tor­tions and lies that the pres­i­dent and his team have told us.

If Trump wants to fo­cus on a na­tional emergency, he needn’t travel all the way to the Rio Grande, as he did Thursday. There are plenty of real crises for him to deal with. Some are not as vis­i­ble and high pro­file and there­fore not so ap­par­ent to this vis­ually in­flu­enced pres­i­dent, yet they ex­ist and need to be ad­dressed. Here are some ex­am­ples:

❚ The govern­ment shut­down. This is an emergency for 800,000 fed­eral work­ers, and many more con­tract work­ers, who are not get­ting paid. Many are be­ing re­quired to work with­out pay, and oth­ers are be­ing re­quired not to work. This will al­most cer­tainly be­come an emergency for the rest of us if it drags on. Al­ready, fewer food in­spec­tors are work­ing, and air­line safety in­spec­tors are among the fur­loughed.

❚ Teach­ers are quit­ting in record num­bers. The rea­sons are many, in­clud­ing low pay and poor work­ing con­di­tions. Who will teach kids sci­ence, math and all the other things they’ll need to com­pete in an ever more com­pet­i­tive global econ­omy?

❚ Empty piggy banks. What’s in your wal­let? Per­haps noth­ing: Four in

10 Amer­i­cans couldn’t cover an un­ex­pected $400 ex­pense, ac­cord­ing to the Fed­eral Re­serve. If this isn’t a cri­sis, I don’t know what is. Pol­i­cy­mak­ers, em­ploy­ers and oth­ers must find ways to bol­ster the fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity of tens of mil­lions who are liv­ing on the brink.

❚ Fis­cal cri­sis. Re­mem­ber all the talk about the $20 tril­lion na­tional debt that Trump in­her­ited and how it would ruin us? It’s now $22 tril­lion and pro­jected to soar to $33 tril­lion by fis­cal year 2028. In­ter­est pay­ments alone could top spend­ing on de­fense, Med­i­caid or chil­dren’s pro­grams — not to men­tion crowd­ing out spend­ing on God knows how many other things. This is just in­ter­est. And if rates go up, it’ll soak tax­pay­ers even more.

❚ For­eign­ers flee­ing. You might not know that nearly 7 mil­lion Amer­i­cans work for for­eign em­ploy­ers. This is hardly a to­ken num­ber, and back­ing it up has al­ways been steady in­vest­ment by oth­ers in the United States. For ex­am­ple, in 2015, for­eign­ers in­vested

$482 bil­lion here. In 2016: $486 bil­lion. But in 2017 that plunged 40 per­cent to

$292 bil­lion, and pre­lim­i­nary data show this num­ber fell even more last year. Tthe Or­ga­ni­za­tion for In­ter­na­tional In­vest­ment, a Wash­ing­ton­based trade group that rep­re­sents U.S. sub­sidiaries of over­seas cor­po­ra­tions, says the rea­sons in­clude “a re­sponse to im­port tar­iffs and other trade ac­tions from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion as in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies hit the pause but­ton on po­ten­tial in­vest­ments.”

Some Amer­i­cans don’t care what for­eign­ers think. But money talks — it sup­ports mil­lions of jobs — and now it’s walk­ing. As the world loses con­fi­dence in Amer­ica, the eco­nomic and se­cu­rity ram­i­fi­ca­tions could be sig­nif­i­cant.

❚ U.S. life ex­pectancy is fall­ing.

New data from the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion show 2017 was the third con­sec­u­tive an­nual de­cline. The drops have been small — a 10th of a year to 78.6 years in 2017 — but that’s enough to set off alarm bells among ex­perts, who con­sider it a shock­ing re­ver­sal for a “wealthy” first-world coun­try.

Do you con­sider im­mi­grants a se­cu­rity threat? Con­sider some not-so-hid­den killers among us: Drug over­doses killed 70,237 peo­ple in 2017 — quadru­ple 1999’s fig­ure. There were 39,773 gun deaths in 2017, a four-decades high; nearly two-thirds of those were sui­cides. And more than 100 mil­lion Amer­i­cans are di­a­betic or pre­di­a­betic — an omen of fu­ture trou­ble.

So I’m glad there’s a chance the pres­i­dent will not la­bel the sit­u­a­tion on the bor­der an emergency. And I hope he’ll re­di­rect his at­ten­tion to the many other prob­lems that might qual­ify, in­clud­ing those on this list.

Paul Bran­dus, founder and White House bureau chief of West Wing Re­ports, is the au­thor of “Un­der This Roof: The White House and the Pres­i­dency” and a mem­ber of USA TO­DAY’s Board of Con­trib­u­tors.

RJ MAT­SON/CQ ROLL CALL/POLITICALCARTOONS.COM

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