The partial government shutdown became the longest in U.S. history as of midnight last night, a dubious accomplishment for the record-shattering presidency of Donald Trump.
The impasse between Trump and Congress has left hundreds of thousands of federal workers, as well as millions of federal contractors, with no income. The shutdown is causing real financial harm to millions of people and their families. And still, there is no end in sight and in fact the negotiating parties seem farther apart than ever.
Even as millions are feeling the pain of the shutdown, White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said that federal workers furloughed because of the shutdown “might be better off” after they return to work because they essentially are getting a “free vacation.”
Hassett, Trump’s chief economic adviser, made the insensitive and clueless remark in an interview he did on “PBS NewsHour.” He said that many of the approximately 800,000 federal employees affected by the three-week partial government shutdown had been planning to take vacation days around the Christmas and New Year holidays. As a result, he said, they would not have gone to work during some of the shutdown period anyway. And, he pointed out, they now get to keep their vacation days even though they didn’t go to work.
In the interview, Hassett was asked by PBS economic correspondent Paul Solman if he saw the shutdown having a detrimental effect on the U.S. economy over time. He responded by suggesting that furloughing around 25 percent of federal employees might seem ominous but really wasn’t a bad thing.
“But then, when the shutdown ends, they go back to work and they get their back pay. A huge share of government workers were going to take vacation days, say, between Christmas and New Year’s. And then we have a shutdown, and so they can’t go to work, and so then they have the vacation, but they don’t have to use their vacation days. And then they come back, and then they get their back pay. Then they’re — in some sense, they’re better off.”
Instead of working to resolve the shutdown crisis, members of Congress left Washington on Friday without any obvious resolution to the impasse.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could be taking steps to end the shutdown, but he is missing in action. He is appearing to take a “hands off” approach to the battle.
If he had the will and the fortitude to stand up to the president, he could take the funding bills passed by the House last week and put them to a floor vote in the Senate, which he controls almost absolutely.
If a bill was passed by both houses of Congress and sent to the president, he would probably veto it because it wouldn’t have the border wall funding in it.
After a presidential veto, the bill would be sent back to Congress to see if it could get enough votes to override the presidential veto. This would take a two-thirds vote, which means 67 votes in the Senate and 290 votes in the House.
There are many who think that due to the unpopularity of both the border wall proposal AND the Trump shutdown, that there could be enough votes in Congress to override the veto.
But Mitch McConnell is doing nothing, even as there is evidence that Republicans are starting to panic. They know this is a losing situation for them to be in. The longer the shutdown continues, the more harm to the lives of millions of Americans, and the more harm to the U.S. economy.
There is clearly no real national emergency to build a border wall. The issue didn’t come up over the first two years of Trump’s presidency when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress. But now that Democrats have taken over House control, all of a sudden Trump and some other Republicans are saying that there is a border crisis.
The president is being led by right-wing commentators on Fox News and elsewhere, and they are leading him — and the entire Republican Party — right off a cliff that threatens to destroy them.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.