A national emergency? The spending fight has created one
Friday is going to be a rough day. More than a couple of million federal employees, their families, contractors, tribes, and not-for-profit corporations will not get paid the money they are owed by the United States of America.
Friday also is the day that put this government shutdown into record territory (a tie with the 21-day shutdown in 1995 between then House Speaker Newt Gingrich and President Bill Clinton). So on Saturday this spending fight will be number one.
But the 1995 dispute was over a long-term principle: Gingrich wanted a balanced federal budget and was willing to spend money and inflict pain to make it so. Of course that did not work. (But it was expensive, as this shutdown will be.)
This shutdown is complicated by the fact that President Donald J. Trump’s line in the sand -- $5.6 billion for a border wall, now a steel fence -- is only a downpayment. No matter what happens in this dispute, the president will have to go back to Congress and ask for much more money. Conservative estimates put the wall at $25 billion. A congressional study estimated $70 billion, plus $150 million a year to maintain. The point being this crisis will not be resolved if Democrats suddenly vote for a wall in this budget.
There are a lot of moving parts in this dispute. On Capitol Hill Wednesday the president met with Senate Republicans. “The Republicans are unified,” he said. “We want border security. We want safety for our country. And, you know, for 25 years they’ve been trying to do this. This has been passed. Chuck Schumer has raised his hand so many different times. I could give you 15 speeches that he made, but I don’t think you’d really enjoy them that much. But I could give you 15 speeches. He talked about border security, no different than me. Border security.”
A bit later the president met with congressional leaders from both parties. After a few minutes he walked out of the meeting, calling it a waste of time. He posted straight to Twitter. “Just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy, a total waste of time. I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!”
The White House is considering declaring a national emergency. “I have the absolute authority to do that if I want,” he said. He then could use existing funds, such as those from the Defense Department. He would then sign the spending bills to reopen the walls.
But even that emergency route is complicated. The action will be immediately challenged in courts. And Republicans aren’t keen on having funds stripped from the Defense Department, especially when they are arguing for more money for the military. A declaration of national emergency will also bring this dispute back into the next budget fight because in September Congress will again have to appropriate funding for the Department of Defense and Homeland Security again. Either way you can bet Democrats will be keen on limiting the president’s options.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, Chickasaw, said right now "this is a fight to be won, and that's a mistake." He said on MSNBC's Morning Joe: "To solve this problem you need to make it bigger than it is now."
Cole suggested adding other complex issues to the discussion, such as a path for children who came to this country through no fault of their own, the so-called DACA group. He said another issue that could be added is a lifting of the debt ceiling and a longer term spending bill that is required to avoid a sequester next year.
He said $5.7 b won’t build a wall. "Physical barriers make sense in certain points, but I also agree we need to take care of the legal status for people who are here by no fault of their own," Cole said. "So why not do it all at once?"
He said one part of the debate that might get agreement is that the Border Patrol needs $1 billion for infrastructure at ports. That's needed now, he said.
Rep. Debra Haaland, D-New Mexico, Laguna Pueblo, dismissed the idea of a national emergency. “The real national emergency right now is thousands of New Mexicans not being able to put food on the table or pay rent, because of the government shutdown,” she said. “New Mexicans need quality public education, good paying jobs, and a renewable energy economy — the wall does nothing to address those issues. On day one, the House passed a bill to get federal workers back to work and paid, and now it’s time for the Senate and the president to do their part.” Haaland spoke in the House about the need to end the shutdown.
However Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Oklahoma, Cherokee Nation, back the president over the call for a wall. He tweeted: “I can’t imagine a world in which #OK2 would say that Chuck Schumer speaks on their behalf. Regardless, I’m fairly confident their take on the #wall and @potus’s address to the nation couldn’t be more different than his. #SecureOurBorder”
Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kansas, Ho Chunk, told National Public Radio: "My hope is that we don't have to see a lot of people suffering the effects -- the negative impacts of a government shutdown before folks are willing to acknowledge and recognize that the vast majority of people are not interested or don't deem a wall to be a good use of our taxpayer resources and that, you know, we can come together to get the federal government back up and running so that everyone who is sitting in Congress can come forward with the things that they know their constituents want them to be working on."
Democrats said they will continue to vote for bills to reopen the government in the House, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he will not call up any legislation unless the White House is willing to support it.
More Republicans are starting to distance themselves from the president. "Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has joined three other Republican Senators—Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Cory Gardner, R-Colorado — are calling for an end to the shutdown.
The Colville Confederated Tribes cannot process timber sales, resulting in temporary hold of $400,000 a week in revenue, plus another $1.5 million a week from federal contracting delays, according to the Tribal Tribune. The chairman of that tribe asked Congress to exempt the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Service from the shutdown.
The Yurok Tribe in California will layoff some tribal employees on January 25 and more on Feb. 1. In addition, the tribal clinic operations are limited until March 31.
In Idaho, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe has reduced its employee hours to 36 per week in order to protect the tribe’s general fund.
At the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, spokeswoman Shirley Young told The Anchorage Daily News in an email that it was “somewhat challenging” to get answers to a reporter’s questions about the effect on ANTHC because “those who are most closely involved are on furlough currently.”
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter - @TrahantReports