As America’s longest shutdown drags on, and both Republicans and Democrats harden their positions, who should blink first?
- The US is currently undergoing the longest shutdown in its history.
- The shutdown, which is on the contentious issue of the border wall with Mexico, enters its 27th day today
- The impasse continues, with neither Trump nor the Democrats backing down
- With Trump facing the bulk of the blame, should he play statesman and reopen the government?
With the Democrats and Republicans in bitter disagreement on the construction of a wall on the border with Mexico, the US government shutdown entered its 31st day today. We DKODE the fine print of the current shutdown, the issue of the wall and also where the impasse stands today.
WHAT DOES THE SHUTDOWN MEAN?
A government shutdown in the US implies that non-essential discretionary federal programs close. It happens when the Congress fails to agree on a resolution for funding for the next fiscal year. This means a complete breakdown of the budget process. The current shutdown came into effect at midnight on December 21, 2018.
- Post the shutdown, around 380,000 non-critical employees of nine agencies sent home without pay.
- Many of these employees are searching for part-time opportunities to pay their bills. However, a law has been passed to give them back pay as soon as the government reopens.
- Around 420,000 critical employees are compelled to work without pay.
- The furloughed employees come from across departments like Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Housing & Urban Development, Interior, Justice, State, Treasury and Transportation.
- Council of Economic Advisors estimates that the shutdown reduces GDP growth by 0.13% every week.
- Government spending itself contributes around 18% of economic output.
WHY DID IT HAPPEN?
The shutdown of the US government is on the issue of a wall across the US-Mexico border. This is a pet project of Donald Trump which he has been peddling since the days of his election campaign.
The US Senate had approved US$ 850 billion for FY’19 for the departments of Defence, Labour, Education, Health and Human Services. Further on September 18, it cleared a spending bill for the other departments until December 7.
This included an amount of US$ 1.6 billion for the funding of the border wall. Further, the Congress extended funding till December 21.
When he met the Democrats on December 11, 2018, Trump demanded a provision of US$ 5 billion for the wall. He threatened to disallow further extensions and enforce a shutdown the government if this was not done. Democrats refused, and instead offered US$ 1.3 billion to continue current border security funding – border fencing, levee walls and technology.
Trump was reportedly planning to compromise on December 18, and the Senate approved an extension of current spending till February 8, 2019.
But later Trump changed his stance and said he would not sign. The negotiations fell apart and the rest is history.
THE TWO SIDES OF THE ARGUMENT
Trump’s view on the wall: Donald Trump believes that the border wall is the only way to prevent large-scale immigration across the US-Mexico border.
Democrat’s view: Democrats consider the wall immoral and unnecessary, and they accuse Trump of fear-mongering. They support continuation of current border security measures – fencing, levee walls and technology.
CRACKING THE CRUX
The US-Mexico border is around 2,000 miles long, and one-third of the border is covered by a wall/fence. Following are the major benefits and drawbacks of the wall:
BUILD THE WALL
Barriers and checkpoints expanded in 2006 cost around US$ 2.3 billion and brought down immigration by 83,000. This increased the pay of low-skilled workers by US$ 0.36 a year.
The US Customs and Border Patrol currently leverages patrols to guard remote borders, and spends around US$ 4 billion every year – this includes 58,000 personnel, 16,875 vehicles, 269 aircraft, 300 watercraft, 300 camera towers and aerial drones.
Even then, the Government Accounting Office estimates that only around 44% of the border is under “operational control”. Moreover, only around 61% of illegal immigrants are intercepted.
If the wall is erected, it is expected to stop 144,000 immigrants and further increase incomes of low-skilled workers by 58 cents a year. Moreover, it would help control terrorism and drug flow from the US’ southern borders. The wall would cost around US$ 15 per American.
DON’T BUILD THE WALL
The wall would cost around US$ 10 billion to US$ 40 billion. Also, lifetime maintenance costs will cross US$ 50 billion. Moreover, the wall will face legal challenges from property owners.
Additional policing will be required to protect the wall itself. Estimates state that around 40% of 11 million illegal immigrants into US come legally but overstay on their visa. These would not be impacted by a wall! Even illegal drugs are known to come hidden in vehicles.
The wall is expected to hurt the economy on the whole – bringing down incomes of high skilled workers by around US$ 7.6 per year. The US economy would lose over US$ 4 billion per year. The existing wall also resulted in a loss of US$ 4.35 per year for workers with college degrees and a decline of US$ 2.5 billion for the economy.
WHO’S TWEETING WHAT
It is becoming more and more obvious that the Radical Democrats are a Party of open borders and crime. They want nothing to do with the major Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border. #2020!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 16, 2019
It’s been 27 days since @realDonaldTrump forced the start of the #TrumpShutdown — and the Senate still hasn’t held a single vote to re-open government. Tune in as I speak with reporters. #EndTheShutdown https://t.co/uxnjhp0VSn
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) January 17, 2019
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) January 17, 2019
WHO SHOULD BLINK FIRST?
The impasse continues, with Trump disallowing a foreign trip by House Speaker and Democrat Nancy Pelosi , stating it was inappropriate when 800,000 federal workers were not getting their pay. He told her that her time was better spent negotiating with him in Washington.
Nancy, in turn, wrote a letter to Trump earlier, asking him to postpone his State of the Union address on January 29. She cited security concerns as the Secret Service is not getting funds.
On Saturday, Trump offered a new immigration proposal that included US$ 800 million in immediate humanitarian aid, US$ 805 million to enable improved drug detection technology at legal ports of entry, hiring of 2,750 new border agents and 75 new immigration judge teams – issues that are all supported by Democrats.
However, it maintained the condition of US$ 5.7 billion in funding for the Mexican wall, and Democrats have been equally cold to this offer.
Trump’s disapproval ratings are at their highest in around a year among registered or likely voters at 54.5%. A poll by Quinnipac University showed that around 63% of voters are opposed to shutting down the government to build the wall.
Moreover, around 56% voters blame Trump and the Republicans for the shutdown compared to 36% blaming the Democrats. However, the issue has become so polarizing, that neither side seems willing to budge.
Given that he is facing the bulk of the blame and has the most to lose, should Trump play the statesman and behave ‘unTrump’-like for once?
On the other hand, Democrats run the risk of being labeled anti-American and pro-illegal immigration. Public memories are short, and Trump may even comfortably rebuild his image by the 2020 elections. Would it be prudent for them to give some leeway in that case?