Feds on Trump’s shutdown threat: ‘It’s blackmail’

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Washington, August 25, 2017 | comments

Joe Davidson

President Trump’s latest threat to shut the government is just the most recent indication that he is unfit and unprepared for the office.

The notion that the president of the United States would purposefully imperil services to taxpayers if Congress doesn’t approve $1.6 billion for his Mexico border wall would be far-fetched, if a credible person occupied the White House.

“Build that wall,” he said in Phoenix this week. “Now the obstructionist Democrats would like us not to do it. But believe me, if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall.”

What happened to Mexico paying — a bogus notion that nation resolutely rejected — as he promised many times? He also didn’t mention those who would pay for a shutdown — taxpayers, especially federal employees.

Fortunately, wiser heads on Capitol Hill countered his dangerous bluster.

“President Trump promised the American people over and over and over again that they would not have to pay for his border wall,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “Yet now he apparently plans to hold the entire country hostage by shutting down the federal government in an effort to pry away billions of their hard-earned dollars for exactly this purpose.”

Added Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), “The president promised that Mexico was going to pay for his wall. That was a lie.”

Even the leadership of Trump’s party rejected his dare.

“I don’t think anyone is interested in having a shutdown,” said House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), despite Trump’s repeated provocations. “I don’t think it’s in our interest to do so.”

Trump thinks otherwise. His Phoenix declaration was his second shutdown challenge. Complaining about the budget process in May, Trump tweeted: “Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!”

Let that sink in — the president thinks the country “needs a good shutdown.”

That’s nuts, as federal employees, retirees and contractors know. Fearing retribution, most staffers contacted for this column did not want to be named saying so.

“It’s blackmail. It’s wasteful. It hurts the American people that the government serves as much as it does the employees. Contract employees, cleaners, cafeteria workers, etc. — of which there are more and more and who are the ones most likely to live closest to the bone — are hurt worse than anyone as they are never recompensed,” a Library of Congress staffer said by email.

“Please do NOT include my name,” he added. “I do fear retribution … which is sad itself.”

Sontia Bailey is one of those contract cafeteria workers who would not get paid if laid off during a shutdown, as most federal employees were during the 16-day partial closure in October 2013. Then, 850,000 employees were furloughed, losing 6.6 million workdays. It, and “debt limit brinksmanship,” also resulted in the loss of billions in economic activity and an estimated 120,000 new private-sector jobs, according to a 2013 Office of Management and Budget (OMB) report.

Now, Mick Mulvaney heads OMB. He supported the earlier shutdown as a Republican congressman from South Carolina and doesn’t shy away from the possibility of one next month. Federal programs are funded through Sept. 30. An impasse on spending could result in the closure of many federal operations.

“We believe we did it for the right reasons,” Mulvaney said in 2013. “We believe it was good policy. We believe good policy makes good politics.”

In May, he again endorsed the tactic, saying that if the budget process is “business as usual and nothing changes and it takes a shutdown to change it, I have no problem with that.”

He should listen to Bailey.

“How will me and my child survive?” she asked in an email. “Trump needs to think before he speaks. Making America Great is not shutting down the Government or building a Wall!!!”

Contractors such as Bailey pay twice when the government shuts down. Like other taxpayers, they are deprived of services. They also lose income. Although federal employees generally were paid for the lost time after the last shutdown, the disruption to their lives and work was significant.

The big stories and commentary shaping the day.

“Closing the Federal government is not the solution to the government ‘mess’ that President Trump thinks it is,” a longtime Defense Department employee said. His email explained the lessons that Trump and Mulvaney should have learned from the 2013 experience:

“First, there was all that planning for the shutdown — the instructions from civilian human resources as to who was ‘excepted’ from the furlough and who was not, and meetings at which those soon-to-be furloughed employees were told what they are forbidden to do during the shutdown (everything, including checking their E-mail). Then, after the shutdown had lapsed, there were the instructions and directives about how to fill out time sheets to reflect the hours not worked, and finally the reversal of those directives” when it was decided that the pay of furloughed employees would be restored, to “the ire of the essential employees who had continued working.

“While President Trump might not be expected to show the generosity toward civilian Federal employees that President Obama showed, he should at least understand that allowing a government shutdown to occur will increase government waste, not decrease it,” the Defense Department worker continued. “The preparation for it takes us away from our jobs to sit in on needless meetings and fill out unnecessary paperwork.

And in the end, due to forces beyond the President’s control, we will probably be paid for it anyway.”

This fed’s conclusion: “Only the taxpayer will lose.”


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