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Petty squabble needlessly prolongs shutdown

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A closed sign is displayed at The National Archives entrance in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, as a partial government shutdown stretches into its third week. A high-stakes move to reopen the government will be the first big battle between Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump as Democrats come into control of the House. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

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Government Shutdown

Friday, January 4, 2019

Like previous government shutdowns, the current one — which entered its 13th day on Thursday — has had less impact than you might expect. About two-thirds of government spending is for benefits such as Medicare and Social Security, which are unaffected by shutdowns. Also unaffected are the jobs of federal workers considered “essential.”

Lessening the impact even further, Congress did manage to pass a measure financing the Pentagon, the Department of Health and Human Services and several other large agencies.

None of this should obscure the fact that this shutdown is both destructive and inane, perhaps more so because Congress, President Donald Trump and even much of the American public seem inured to these periodic events.

The shutdown is affecting a number of loan programs from the Small Business Administration and other agencies. (Initially, it prevented the issuance of federal flood insurance policies, which are necessary for mortgages in many parts of the country, but the government has apparently found a workaround.) Smithsonian museums are shuttered, and national parks are a mess.

The proximate cause of the shutdown is a dispute over funding for Trump’s border wall, the one Mexico was supposed to pay for.

Physical barriers (though not concrete walls) are an important component of border security in certain places along the 2,000-mile border. But much of today’s illegal immigration problem involves people who overstay their visas or who wish to be apprehended so they can apply for asylum or refugee status.

Trump seemed to comprehend this when he initially signaled he would compromise. But he beat a hasty retreat when he started coming under attack from hard-line conservative pundits and power brokers.

Trump has been seeking $5 billion for the wall; Democrats have been offering $1.3 billion for border security. A deal in this case would not be difficult to envision, as the numbers involved are dwarfed by the $3.8 trillion budget.

Ideally, in return for the Democrats meeting him partway on border security, Trump would agree to end his policy of threatening “Dreamers” — young adults who were brought here illegally as children — with deportation once their court protection ends.

This fight over border funding, however, has larger overtones that might stand in the way of a quick resolution. Wednesday’s meeting at the White House with congressional leaders ended with no signs of progress.

Democrats, who took control of the House on Thursday, are happy to finally be in the position of being able to say no to Trump and want to display that power to their rank-and-file voters. They plan to offer a measure funding the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8 and the rest of the government for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Trump, meanwhile, has spent his first two years catering to his base and ignoring or insulting just about everyone else. He does not appear inclined to change that now.

This leaves much of the country wondering when this desultory fight over a relatively small matter will come to an end. From the looks of things, the answer is: not very soon.

USA Today


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