We Shouldn’t Shut Down the Government

Alex Campbell, Opinion Writer

On December 22nd, President Donald J. Trump and the U.S. Congress partially shut down the Government. This lead to 800,000 federal workers in agencies shut down being left without pay. January 11th was the first missed paycheck.

A total of 17 agencies were affected by the shutdown, including:

  • Department of State, (DOS) responsible for public relations involving the United States on a global scale.
  • Department of the Treasury, responsible for managing the government’s revenue.
  • Department of Justice, (DOJ) responsible for handling law enforcement and higher level court cases.
  • Department of the Interior, responsible for the management of most native and federal lands in America and her territories.
  • Department of Agriculture, (DOA) responsible for developing laws related to farmland and food distribution.
  • Department of Commerce, responsible for promotion of economic growth.
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development, used for enforcing housing and metropolitan policies.
  • Department of Transportation, (DOT) used in maintenance of the nation’s transport and transit infrastructure.
  • Department of Homeland Security, (DHS) responsible for public security.
  • Executive Office of the President, which is the 4,000 or so people working in the center of the Executive branch.
  • Independent agencies, such as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals

This shutdown has a somewhat extensive history, beginning in 2016 during the Trump campaign. In that campaign, Trump made a promise of a wall running along the US-Mexico border, which Mexico would pay for. The president of Mexico had then rejected the motion of Mexico providing funding for this wall. In 2018, Trump had requested $18 billion in funding for the near 700 miles of the wall, mainly to replace the 650-plus miles of older fence along the border from the Secure Fence Act of 2006. On December 25, 2018, Trump had receded, claiming that he would accept anywhere between 500 to 550 miles of the proposed wall.

In a meeting with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, Donald Trump asked both to support a $5.7 billion dollar appropriation bill for the border wall, with both refusing. A disagreement followed, in which Trump was televised stating, “I am proud to shutdown the government for border security. I will be the one to shut the government down. I’m not going to blame you for it, I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down.”

No more than ten days later, Donald Trump blamed Democrats for the shutdown. Over the course of the 35-day shutdown, the American economy lost $11 billion dollars, or around $314 million dollars every day. For scale, that’s the cost equivalent of roughly 88 million Big Mac hamburgers, every day, for more than a month.

On January 25th, President Trump endorsed a bill which would reopen the government for three weeks, allowing for negotiations for a bill which would enable appropriations for the border wall. If this agreement was not met, the President then claimed that he would again shut down the government and use military funding for the wall. Contrary to statements made by the White House, a CBS News poll returned that just over 70% of Americans claimed the border wall was not worth the shutdown. During another poll, this time by the Washington Post and ABC News, 53% of Americans blamed Trump and other Republicans for the shutdown. 10% blamed both parties and 34% blamed Democrats.

During the shutdown, the President was asked if he was considering declaring a national emergency in course with the event.

Trump’s reply: “I have the absolute right to declare a national emergency if I want.”

He then pushed for the notion that he would declare an emergency. This had obviously stirred a pot of controversy. Various professors at Yale University and the Brennan Center for Justice had insinuated that, had Trump declared a national emergency, it is “An abuse of power,” and “Unconstitutional and illegal.”   

Scientific progress was affected by the shutdown. While agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) were still issuing alerts on weather and natural hazards/disasters, almost all of the scientific research that is put into halting these hazards and disasters was stopped. This also means that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) deadlines would have to be extended, or that the EPA flat out couldn’t meet those deadlines, which have to do with chemical assessment in the atmosphere.

Military effects are always prevalent during a government shutdown, with some branches losing funding depending on the agencies closed. During the most recent shutdown, four of the five military branches (Army, Navy, Marines, and the Air Force) were left open. This leaves the Coast Guard without funding past December 31, 2018. In a statement from the Coast Guard tip sheet on the Coast Guard website: “To get by without pay, consider holding a garage sale, babysitting, dog-walking, or possibly being a ‘mystery shopper’.”

This lapse in judgement and tact came in a time when over 40,000 Coast Guardsmen went without pay, leading to food banks and local charities being set up in order to provide for those without pay. It is blatantly shameful that any of those who are tasked with protection of our nation go without pay, but that is amplified when our servicemen and women must turn to charities because they are being denied the means to provide for their family. During the shutdown, the United Services Automobile Association (USAA) had appropriated $15 million to provide pay for military members going without pay.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) also was shut down, which means that tax returns and the annual tax season will be delayed. This is leading to profound effects nationwide, especially for small business owners or lower-income families. These tax returns are vital for those who have little or no business in the winter, such as contractors or construction workers. Again, this withholding of much-needed funds play a large role in the economic consequences of this recent government shutdown. Thousands of phone calls to the IRS were either left unanswered or on hold for hours on end. Of course, these issues didn’t end with the shutdown. In a report released on the week of February 2nd, under half of all phone calls to the IRS were either answered or returned. In another set of data released from the IRS recently, tax return filings were 6.9 percent down compared to February 8, 2018, and return processing is down 10.2 percent in the same time frame. It should also be noted that the average tax return amount is down 8.7 percent, currently at $1,949 on average per person from $2,135 last year.

Utah was left relatively unscathed from the shutdown. As of January 14, the state was running low, but not empty on funds for long term shutdowns. During the shutdown, the state offered weekly updates on the financial situation regarding statewide programs. Also as of January 14, Utah state has spent roughly $70,000 of its $80,000 budget to keep the state’s national parks open.  The Utah National Guard, which is the military members who are not active duty, was not expecting any significant impact until January 30th, due to its funding coming from the already-approved federal defense budget. It seems to be that the majority of the impact from the government shutdown in Utah was focused towards the state parks.

Immigration, drug trafficking, and terrorism is one of the main defending arguments of the wall. As it stands currently, the leading cause of illegal immigration into America is by plane, where citizens will be granted a work visa, and then simply overstay said visa to live permanently in America. It’s also worth noting that if somebody comes over the border, it’s for a reason. Most of these people are honorable individuals, wishing to make their money and stay away from trouble. The number of terrorists and drug traffickers coming to America is greatly overstated by the current administration and the media. This inflation plays a large role in how we treat these people and what goes into our borders as a whole.

All of this happened in the course of just over a month*. We cannot allow this to happen again, for any reason. A government shutdown doesn’t accomplish what it is set out to do, and the American people have to pay for it in the end. Remember that the American economy that President Trump is near endlessly boasting about improving had blew through $11 billion dollars in 35 days. This shutdown has had profound effects that will be felt for years to come, and it discourages people from working for our government because there will be a constant risk of a shutdown.

*UPDATE: As of February 15, 2019, the President has issued a national emergency in regards to the “invasion” at the southern border. Subsequently, a total of sixteen states have sued the President in an attempt to stop the wall’s construction. These states include Connecticut, California, Delaware, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, The Commonwealth of Virginia, and Oregon. As of October 2018, there are in excess of 2,000 National Guardsmen at our southern border to make sure nobody and nothing gets across. The President also plans to sign a funding bill, which he is eyeing to be in excess of $8 billion dollars. This is the first national emergency since 9-11 to authorize military action.