Mess in wake of government shutdown

Published 10:45 am Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The threat of another shutdown looms on the horizon as the three-week stop-gap deadline nears for Congress to reach a deal on funding the continued operation of the federal government.

Previously scheduled only to be in session Feb. 11-13, the House extended its work schedule by an additional two days in an effort to get the critical work done before the continuing resolution expires Feb. 15. Without an appropriations bill with which the president and Congressional Republi­cans and Democrats can agree, non-essential government employees will find themselves furloughed for another undetermined period of time.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remains steadfast in her opposition to any additional funding for expansion of the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. She’s gone so far as to call the wall an “immorality between countries.”

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President Donald Trump publicly denounces Pelosi for her rigid stance. If there is no deal that includes $5.7 billion in wall funding, last week Trump said he will consider declaring a national emergency to establish border security.

Lawsuits quickly will follow such potential action on the president’s part. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly has warned Trump this possible action would serve only to further divide an already hopelessly dysfunctional government.

Whether or not one views expansion of the border wall as an issue of morality, or holds the view that a porous southern border permeates conditions for a humanitarian crisis, one thing is certain. This entire impasse is costing America far more than the $5.7 billion Trump is demanding for the border barrier.

According to calculations released by the Congressional Budget Office, the recently ended 35-day shutdown cost the country an estimated $11 billion in lost government worker productivity, delayed federal spending and reduced consumer demand.

It seems counterintuitive that closing roughly a quarter of the federal government actually could cost taxpayers more.

Even though shutting off several rooms at home, keeping the lights off and the thermostat settings lower, saves on the monthly electric bill, such actions don’t work when it comes to the federal government.

Some 800,000 or so federal employees who missed two paychecks during the shutdown will be compensated back pay for work that didn’t get performed. And there’s been talk of bonuses being paid to others who were required to work without pay during the five-week period. Any business leader worth his or her salt knows compensation paid for work left undone is the highest cost a business can incur.

While these folks went without pay, the economy stuttered as consumer spending declined. With hundreds of thousands of federal employees and contractors forced to tighten their belts while going without pay, the retail and service providers in the national marketplace also felt the pinch.

The CBO estimates this economic drag reduced the fourth quarter 2018 gross domestic product by $3 billion. Estimates further predict the first quarter 2019 GDP will be some $8 billion in decline.

At the same time, taxes and fees that provide income for the government weren’t collected during the shutdown. According to the CBO, the 2013 16-day government shutdown cost the U.S. National Park Service approximately $7 million.

Compromise and constructive leadership must occur between now and Feb. 15 to avoid another stalemate with regard to the appropriations bill. America cannot afford and should not be left to shoulder another costly shutdown.

The News-Enterprise, Elizabethtown