Shutdown: WH, top lawmakers give primetime TV speeches, while unions see little progress

The partial shutdown of the federal government continued, lumbering through a third week—on Friday, Jan. 11, already matching the previous 21-day record for longest shutdown ever.

Amid the shutdown endlessly grinding on, President Trump made a special primetime TV appeal for public support for funding for his border wall and casting responsibility for the stoppage on the —and top congressional opposition leaders rebutted, rejecting the need for such an expensive physical barrier and pointing the finger back at the White House for taking away needed services from ordinary Americans, and paychecks from federal employees.

With the president’s speech in effect demanding from Congress a bill that would allocate billions of dollars for that barrier—$5.7 billion in recent statements being the amount required to satisfy the White House—while his adversaries retort refusing to bend on the matter, meanwhile over 800,000 federal employees were hit with no hope of receiving their normal mid-January pay package. About 420,000 of these faced continued orders to work without pay, while some 380,000 others are stuck idled from work.

Point and counterpoint

In an atmosphere of increasingly dire headlines about the shutdown, the president decided to change tactics and talk to the public directly—through a primetime televised speech, a first for POTUS number 45.

“There is a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border,” the president began in his address. “Every day Customs and Border Patrol agents encounter thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter our country—we are out of space to hold them, and we have no way to promptly return them back to their country.”

“America proudly welcomes millions of lawful immigrants that enrich our society and contribute to our nation,” he continued. “But all Americans are hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration.”

The president went on to slam drugs, human trafficking and violent crime issues emerging from what he sees as a border “in crisis”—all part of the “cycle of human suffering” that he wants to end, in crucial part, by erecting the wall he wants more of Congress, and the public, to support.

“The federal government remains shut down for one reason, and one reason only,” he pivoted, explaining a shutdown he disowned responsibility for. “Because Democrats will not fund border security.”

“To every citizen, call Congress,” he exhorted. “And tell them to finally—after all of these decades—secure our border.”

The opposition on Capitol Hill replied sharply in their televised rebuttal.

“Sadly, much of what we heard from President Trump throughout this senseless shutdown has been full of misinformation—and even malice,” asserted Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), again the Speaker of the House. “The president has chosen fear.”

Pelosi, in a joint reaction delivered with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), insisted that the president should cooperate with Congress—and face the new Democratic majority in the House—in order to restore funding, immediately, to departments and agencies that remain shut down.

She decried the president’s unwillingness to set aside what she described as his “obsession with forcing American taxpayers to waste billions of dollars on an expensive and ineffective wall.”

Hence, deep disagreement over problems at the border—the actual numbers of illegal immigrants, and the costs and benefits involved in building any wall, as well as whether a “crisis” exists—remains between the White House and its border wall opponents. Indeed, some news organizations—including CNN, the Washington Post, among others—posted fact-check stories that sharply criticized the factual basis of the president’s speech. Other organizations—including Fox News—ran items claiming that past presidents have not endured the same level of scrutiny.

Unions slam shutdown, hold protests

Meanwhile, federal employee unions continued to press—and amplify—the same criticisms of the shutdown they had issued over the recent holidays.

On Jan. 8—the very day President Trump delivered his address, denying responsibility for the shutdown—the American Federation of Government Employees posted a new press release headlined: “End the Shutdown Now!” The union reiterated its call for the White House and leading lawmakers to bring the partial stoppage to an end—and for pay and workplace scheduling across the affected agencies to go back to normal.

AFGE also held a Jan. 9 rally event protesting the continuing shutdown, in Silver Spring, Maryland. J. David Cox, president of the union, federal employees and businesspeople, and congress members were all part of the federal employee rally event.  

The National Treasury Employees Union likewise posted on its website more calls to end the impasse—heralded with the headline: “Rally to End the Shutdown!”

NTEU also held an anti-shutdown rally, on Jan. 10, on the premises of AFL-CIO headquarters—at 815 16th St. N.W., Washington, D.C.

NTEU, in its press release, noted the event included its union president Tony Reardon, as well as “congressional leaders, other labor leaders,” and federal employees.

“Cut it out, open the government and end this unnecessary and shameful shutdown,” Sen. Chris Von Hollen (D-Md.) said at the AFL-CIO event.

The National Federation of Federal Employees urged its members and friends to come to the same D.C. protest event—a “#StopTheShutdown” event, as it was billed in a press release. NFFE promoted concerted action with other unions and allied organizations.

Additional protests against the federal government shutdown took place over same period at various venues across the nation, including rallies in Kansas City and Chicago.

Federal employee unions, led by AFGE and NTEU, also have sued the federal government, with a lead claim that it is against the law—specifically, the Fair Labor Standards Act—to require federal employees to work without pay.

Costs mounting

The current partial shutdown is now among the longest in modern history—a dubious honor that long belonged to a shutdown back in 1995, which lasted 21 days.

Not only has this year’s shutdown standoff resisted solution, but in some cases the pay disruptions involved are likely to cost many federal employees dearly—especially those who lack reserves for long waits without pay.

It also will cost the economy, including both the federal sector and private companies, billions of dollars.

Past long shutdown costs have been substantial. A report from the Office of Management and Budget estimated that a 2013 shutdown lasting less time—13 days—cost about $2 billion to $2.5 billion in lost productivity from federal employees alone.

The same OMB report said that the 2013 stoppage cost to overall GDP was in the neighborhood of $2 billion to $6 billion.

Other reports issued in the wake of that shutdown dig into broader impacts on the economy, and offer even bleaker cost estimates. For example, one widely-cited Standard&Poors analysis concluded that the economy lost about $23 billion in value due to effects of the 2013 shutdown.

For the moment, it is difficult for economists to pin the exact cost of the continuing 2018/2019 breach in normal federal operations. But, according to even conservative estimates, the losses will run in the hundreds of millions of dollars per week—as experts, labor organizations, and the public energetically will remind the White House and Congress while the shutdown drags on.

Reader comments

Thu, Jan 17, 2019 The need to think

To: "Elected officials are all ... " Democracy is the worst form of government, EXCEPT for all the others. -- Winston Churchill. (Honestly, do you think you can be more thoughtful than to note that, yes, elected officials can be "self perpetuating misfits"? They are also sometimes a damn sight better than a dictatorship or an authoritarian completely fake "democracy" like Russia or countless other countries have. Ours is in trouble, deeply--but it's better to have "elected officials" than unelected ones!

Thu, Jan 17, 2019

Unions are worthless, they talk a lot take dues and do nothing for the rank and file. This shutdown confirms this. Ask the paid union leaders what kind of bonuses and salary increases they get when the do nothing. I am not a union basher just pragmatic to see what they have done for federal employees in the near past, three years with no salary adjustments, and one adjustment that was absolutely worthless and we can thank the Obama and other minions in congress and senate.

Thu, Jan 17, 2019

Elected officials are all a collection of self perpetuating misfits who exert little work ethic and surely need to be shown the door out with a foot up their south end.

Mon, Jan 14, 2019 Jackie

My union just told me to start looking for alternate work. I am an intermittent duty employee who was scheduled to come back this month but the shutdown intervened. I am not eligible for back wages. Shame on the Republicans and on Trump!

Mon, Jan 14, 2019

Hey elected officials from he president down to the senate and congressional minions: GROW UP YOU COLLECTION OF FOOLS AND MENTAL MIDGETS: watching the lives of federal employees, contract staff and the businesses suffer while you feed at the swamp trough, do make America great again resign, starting with the pond scum currently causing these problems.

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Edward A. Zurndorfer Certified Financial Planner
Mike Causey Columnist
Tom Fox VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service
Mathew B. Tully Legal Analyst

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