By David E. Hubler
Contributor, In Homeland Security
The American people got a rare glimpse of raw politics on Tuesday when President Trump and his two leading Democratic opponents in Congress argued openly before television cameras in the Oval Office. At issue was funding for the wall the president wants to build along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump threatened a government shutdown later this month unless Congress provides the funding for the border wall. He told House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, “If we don’t have border security, we’ll shut down the government — this country needs border security.”
The president added that he “was proud to shut down the government for border security. I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down,” according to the Washington Post.
Democrats Against a Government Shutdown
Pelosi (D-Calif.) likely will become House Speaker in January when the Democrats take control of the lower chamber. She and Schumer (D-N.Y.) told Trump that the Democrats will not approve a spending bill that contains $5 billion for the border wall. Approval of the bill would also keep the government open past the December 21 deadline when the lawmakers go home for the year.
“We do not want to shut down the government. We want to come to an agreement,” Schumer said.
Disputed Funding Part of Annual ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Appropriations Ordeal
The border wall funding is part of Congress’ annual appropriations “fiscal cliff” ordeal. Budget agreements must be reached by the end of the year to keep the government solvent and to avoid a shutdown.
“There’s nothing lawmakers hate more than spending the holidays at the Capitol,” the Washington Post said. “Their eagerness to get home could motivate them to get these bills done, but that doesn’t solve the problem of Trump threatening not to sign anything without border wall money.”
Who Would Be Affected by a Government Shutdown?
“Should the two sides not make a deal by Dec. 21, about three-quarters of the government would continue to have enough money to operate,” the Associated Press explained. Many federal programs have enough funding to continue operating.
If there is no agreement by the deadline, the departments that would be affected include Homeland Security, Transportation, Agriculture, State and Justice, as well as the national parks.
Government employees who are designated as essential continue to work during a shutdown.
But hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal workers will not see a paycheck until the stalemate is resolved and they return to work. Following past shutdowns, Congress has always authorized payment of back wages.
A brief shutdown occurred from January 20–22, 2018, but it did not result in any workers being furloughed.
A major shutdown began on October 1, 2013, when approximately 800,000 federal employees were furloughed for 16 days. Another 1.3 million were required to report to work without guarantee of payment. The deadlock centered on Republican demands to delay or defund the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known colloquially as Obamacare.
As the Post reported, “The idea to hold the rest of the government hostage to kill the health-care law was spawned by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). You may remember his 21-hour filibuster, in which he famously read his daughter ‘s ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ through C-SPAN.”
Standard & Poor’s estimated the 2013 shutdown cost the U.S. economy $24 billion.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich is credited (or condemned) for the government shutdown tactic when he led a 21-day work stoppage in 1995.
Following an inconclusive CR and a brief government closure November 14-19, the long shutdown began on December 15, 1995. It ended on January 6, 1996, when President Clinton and Congress agreed to a seven-year balanced budget with modest spending cuts and tax increases.
“In the end, Gingrich and the Republicans managed to wrangle Clinton into negotiations over the budget, but lost heavily in a political sense,” Mic Network reported. “A plurality of Americans were deeply unhappy about the shutdown itself, which they blamed on Republicans.”
Whether the president will make good on his promise of a government shutdown remains to be seen. Numerous Trump observers note his proclivity to threaten actions, only to reverse his position later.