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OUR VIEWS

Trump must give up wall folly, reopen gov't

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Sunday, December 30, 2018

As you read this, our federal government will likely be in the ninth day of a partial shutdown — and well on the road toward what could be the longest such closure of our government ever.

While the shutdown is limited in scope — about 75 percent of the federal government, including the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, and Labor, is funded through September 2019 — the shuttering of nine federal departments and dozens of agencies affecting 800,000 federal employees is having, and will continue to have, significant impacts, particularly in our area.

Coast Guard officials confirmed last week that the shutdown means about 44,000 of its employees, including those at Base Elizabeth City, are now working without pay, while another 6,000 have been furloughed. Coast Guard officials declined to specify how many employees at the Aviation Logistics Center, the base command that supports both Coast Guard aircraft and air stations, are affected by the shutdown, but one did say the closing means the ALC “will likely not have the full support that they need in order to maintain mission readiness.” The Coast Guard is affected by the shutdown because although it’s a branch of the military, it falls under the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Defense, which oversees the other military services.

Partial government shutdowns are nothing new. In fact, the current one is the third this year. But this is the longest of the three and is already nearly halfway toward being the longest ever. It’s also the most pointless.

The only reason the government is now partially shut down, the only reason our hardworking Coast Guard men and women are going without a paycheck, the only reason the civilians who work for the Coast Guard aren’t getting paid or have been sent home on furlough, is because of President Donald Trump’s petulance and ego. The president is demanding Congress spend $5 billion for an unnecessary wall on the U.S.’ southern border — a wall he ridiculously promised over and over that Mexico would pay for — and he’s holding federal government workers’ paychecks hostage to get it.

American voters delivered an overwhelming rebuke to President Trump’s claims about the need for a border wall in last month’s mid-term election, turning out the Republican majority in the House in spite of the president’s non-stop claims in the campaign’s waning days about a caravan of illegal immigrants heading north to invade the U.S. Polls show most Americans oppose a border wall, understanding that overall illegal immigration is down and that a wall would be ineffective since most immigration violations now are committed by immigrants overstaying visas, not scurrying over borders. 

Nonetheless, the president, in a stubborn last stand before Democrats take over the House later this week, continues to demand billions of taxpayer dollars for a physical wall. Incredibly, he also claims that federal workers support what he’s doing, even though it’s costing them pay, jeopardizing their home mortgages and landing many in costly debt. Apparently, the president hasn’t read any of the hundreds of stories federal workers have posted on social media about the financial hardship they expect the shutdown will cause them. 

On Friday, showing just how irrational he can be, Trump again threatened to close the U.S.’ southern border with Mexico and cut off aid to Central America if Congress continues to refuse to fund his wall. Of course, closing the border would result in a financial nightmare that would make this month’s roiling of the stock market look like a bull market by comparison. Also, the president seems not to know that it’s Congress, not the president, who appropriates aid dollars to Central American countries. Or that shutting off aid to Central America would make the immigrant crisis worse, not better. 

Democrats and more than a few Republicans in the Senate have rightly refused to give in to the president’s bullying and extortion. They have no interest in wasting $5 billion of hard-earned taxpayer money on a boondoggle just to give President Trump, in his words, “a win.” The Senate was prepared to support a bipartisan deal that would have spent $1.6 billion improving border security, but there wasn’t enough support in the House, where Republicans are still in control for a few more days, or from Trump. The president did signal briefly last weekend he might accept less funding for border security than $5 billion, but that evaporated after right-wing media pundits criticized him for apparently caving on his demand for a wall.  

We expect Democrats under new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to attempt to fully reopen the federal government later this week, but any legislation that passes the House will still have to be approved in the Senate, which is still under Republican control and doesn’t seem inclined now to agree to anything without Trump’s support.

What that means is that the impasse will likely continue for some time and the some 800,000 government employees affected by the shutdown, including the Coast Guard families and Coast Guard civilian workers in our midst, could very soon start feeling real pain from not having a paycheck. We would hope President Trump, whose Mar-a-Lago estate is protected by Coast Guard personnel during his visits, would remember this when he makes his next trip there. But that, of course, would require him to think of someone other than himself. 

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