President Donald Trump agreed Friday to end the 35-day partial government shutdown, the longest in history, without getting the $5.7 billion he had wanted for a border wall. Assuming he sticks to his guns — no foregone conclusion — this begins a three-week attempt by lawmakers to negotiate an agreement to avoid another shutdown.
Shutdowns are not good governance. Something has to change.
While some believe shutdowns impact few beyond those living off the government dole, residents of our communities know better. Shutdowns are ugly, messy, embarrassing affairs and a waste of time and resources. They inflict hurt indiscriminately and seldom achieve their goals.
As a first-world nation and global leader, they are simply unacceptable. Grounded flights due to security and air-traffic-control shortfalls at major airports; impeded Food and Drug Administration safety inspections; museums shuttered; national parks overflowing with refuse; delays in tax refunds, small business loans, initial public offerings and infrastructure projects; these are just a few ways government shutdowns hamper the nation’s business.
S&P Global Ratings estimates the U.S. economy lost at least $6 billion during the shutdown due to lost productivity from furloughed workers and economic activity lost to outside business. Although federal employees will receive back pay, we expect there will be long-term damage to the local economy and to individuals who might not work directly for the federal government, but rely on it for their livelihood, including the thousands of federal contractors and vendors who call Prince William and Fauquier counties home.
Many federal employees are living paycheck to paycheck, and have been forced to negotiate with landlords, mortgage companies and bill collectors. And while federal employees will see back pay, there is no such guarantee for contractors.
Some estimate the number of contractors who won’t see a dime of back pay to be in the millions. Many of these employees are among the lowest paid workers in the federal government. For those who can’t “just take a loan,” it is more than a “little bit of pain.”
And it is important to remember while members of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines and were unaffected by the shutdown because funding for the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs were finalized last fall, the Coast Guard was a different story.
Because the Coast Guard is part of the previously unfunded Department of Homeland Security, some 42,000 service members — including those deployed to faraway places such as the Middle East and Japan — had been required to work without pay.
To put it mildly, a shutdown over border security that left one of the nation’s key border protectors unpaid calls into question the validity of the entire exercise.
The president boasted about “owning” a shutdown in the name of border security, and, under pressure from conservative pundits, indicated he would reject a stopgap spending measure just days before Christmas. A month later, we are right back where we started. It was unnecessary, indefensible, embarrassing and really, downright infuriating.
Now, Congress has three weeks to come to some sort of agreement on border security. The president said Sunday he doesn’t expect to get a deal he will accept, and again threatened to invoke emergency powers to build the wall. He also indicated he would be skeptical of any deal that traded wall money for immigration reform, and he’s already facing backlash from some of those same conservative pundits for “caving in” to Democrats.
This is not encouraging. Still, we hope all sides work together to find solutions and spending plans that are grounded in reality and address the challenges at the border most effectively. After all, that is how government is supposed to work.
The president fancies himself a master of the “art of the deal.” Here’s a chance for him to prove it.