The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

What Happens When the Government Shuts Down

A U.S. Border Patrol agent at the U.S.-Mexican border near Calexico, Calif., in 2017. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The federal government has been running for about three weeks on unpaid labor, and why that shouldn’t be mistaken for a government that’s functioning quite well; why the 2020 Democratic presidential primary will be better with Joe Biden in it; and Freedom Partners offers what it sees as a better way to get fairer trade conditions than tariffs.

The Federal Government Is ‘Functioning’ Because People Are Working Without Pay

You’re seeing some conservatives argue that the American government is functioning fine during the shutdown, demonstrating that the “nonessential” workers are genuinely unneeded and that this proves that there’s no real need to bring the shutdown to an end.

This is a pretty poorly informed reaction. Some of the most important duties of the federal government are continuing to function because hundreds of thousands of federal employees are working without pay and hoping that they get paid for their labor once the shutdown ends.

In a perfect irony for a government-shutdown fight about border security, right now almost 55,000 employees of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection are not being paid. They’re still out there, doing their duties, patrolling in dangerous situations. The president and Congress will probably pay them once this is over, although that’s not guaranteed. But how are they supposed to react when President Trump says the shutdown could last “months, even years”?

How long could you work without pay? How long would you work in a dangerous job without pay?

More than 16,000 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees are working without pay. Some far-left Democrats wanted to “abolish ICE”; the government shutdown has, at least for now, abolished the agents’ paychecks.

More than 17,000 Citizenship and Immigration Services employees are working without pay. Nearly 6,000 employees of the U.S. Secret Service are working without pay. About 2,000 DHS employees who focus on cyber security are working without pay.

More than 15,000 employees of the Federal Emergency Management Agency are working without pay. Hope you’re not among the 40,000 Louisianans who need to renew their flood insurance but who can’t while the government is shut down.

Due to a last-minute deal, about 42,000 employees of the U.S. Coast Guard got one extra paycheck, but they will not get their next paycheck if the shutdown does not end soon.

About 55,000 Transportation and Security Administration employees, including the staff that work the security lines at airports, are not getting paid. More employees are “calling out sick,” but so far there have been no significant increases in delays.

Throughout the Department of Homeland Security, training of new employees is halted.

That’s just in the Department of Homeland Security. Over at the Department of Justice, right now, about 36,000 FBI employees, including about 13,000 special agents, are not being paid.

About 35,000 guards and employees of the Federal Bureau of Prisons are not getting paid.

Over at the Drug Enforcement Agency, about 7,600 employees working without pay; 4,600 in the U.S. Marshals Service, and about 4,200 at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

Without Congressional appropriations, U.S. federal courts are operating on money generated by court fees — and they run out of money on Friday. After that, the courts have to sort out what operations are necessary for the protection of life and property and which ones aren’t, and cease any work that doesn’t make the cut.

All of the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are closed. Zookeepers are still taking care of the animals . . . without pay.

About 95 percent of NASA’s employees aren’t going to work — just the folks who have to show up and keep NASA people and property safe.

When government shutdowns occur, you usually see a lot of coverage of the National Park Service — because it’s an impact that’s easy to see, and just about everybody likes national parks and no one likes to see them closed. You’ve probably heard about the volunteers who are stepping in and picking up trash and cleaning the facilities, but the scale of the task is surpassing the abilities of the volunteers. The National Park Service now plans to use the entrance fees to pay for operations, which may technically be illegal.

Whether or not you like the Department of Housing and Urban Development, if we’re going to have public housing, we probably should have safety inspections. Those are suspended until further notice.

Some contract workers in federal buildings such as custodians and security officers are effectively laid off until the government reopens. Good luck with all of those bills left over from Christmas, everyone!

You hear the common joke: “If these workers are nonessential, why are they working in those jobs at all?” Besides all of the folks working without pay, like those FBI agents, border patrol officers, prison guards, etc. — what we’re witnessing right now is the federal government operating with a skeleton crew. Just about any institution can temporarily get by with the minimal staff, but after a while the duties pile up and become unmanageable — whether it’s a waitress trying to serve too many tables, supermarkets with one cash register open, or public bathrooms with only one stall working.

I suspect some people will interpret the above information as a demand that President Trump make concessions in negotiations, because I often find myself receiving criticism for arguments thatI never made. The grief and aggravation listed above seems like a high price to pay to prevent $5 billion in funding for “the wall,” or bollard fencing, or slats, or whatever we’re calling it this week. Because the federal government usually pays both those working without pay and those staying home, government shutdowns cost the taxpayers more than remaining open. Shutting down museums and national parks slows down the economy; nobody’s buying anything in the gift shops. Unpaid contractors don’t pay income taxes on wages they don’t receive.

Yesterday on Meet the Press, Steny Hoyer made a comment that hinted at some wiggle room.

CHUCK TODD: If it’s a steel fence and he doesn’t call it a wall, can you accept that?

REP. STENY HOYER: Chuck, let me say: We’ve done fencing in the past, as you know.

CHUCK TODD: So you’ll do it in the future, what you’re saying?

REP. STENY HOYER: We’ve done fencing in the past. However, what is happening today, and hopefully the administration will come — the administration has not come up with any specific plan as to how they’re going to spend this money.

All Hoyer wants to see is a specific spending plan? That’s pretty far from Nancy Pelosi’s current argument that “A wall is an immorality between countries.”

Please Run, Joe Biden

The New York Times:

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is in the final stages of deciding whether to run for president and has told allies he is skeptical the other Democrats eyeing the White House can defeat President Trump, an assessment that foreshadows a clash between the veteran Washington insider and the more liberal and fresh-faced contenders for the party’s 2020 nomination.

A Democratic primary with Joe Biden in it is better for the country (and for the values of conservatives) than one without him — and not just for entertainment value. The current mood among the Democratic grassroots is that Obama and his administration were too nice, too conciliatory, too respectful, too compromising, and too centrist, and that’s the main reason the previous administration failed to deliver nirvana.

As a candidate, Joe Biden would be the guy on stage explaining to all of these upstarts who have been in Washington for about 20 minutes that the Obama administration was more than sufficiently progressive and aggressive. (Everyone’s forgotten that “I won,” “I have a pen and a phone,” executive orders raising the minimum wage for federal workers and contractors, expanding DACA, and enormous amounts of regulations enacted by cabinet agencies, in an attempt to enact changes that the GOP Congress would not support.)

He would be a needed corrective, reminding the progressive activists most tuned in to the early debates that the Democratic party and the country as a whole are much more ideologically diverse than they wish, and that politics is the art of the possible. A lot of activists would hate him for telling them that, but they need to hear it anyway.

Hey, Why Would We Trash a Court that Agrees with Us Nine Times Out of Ten?

If you think enacting tariffs on foreign imports hurts American consumers, but that some other countries aren’t playing fair with the United States and are supporting their own industries, what’s the right solution? The gang at Freedom Partners unveils a video this morning that addresses that exact question, and begins, “The president has a point about other

nations imposing tariffs on American exports. You can see we are one of the most pro trade nations in the world. Meanwhile, a lot of countries impose more tariffs on us than we do on them.”

What do they recommend? Take our fights to the World Trade Organization, which is designed to fairly adjudicate these disputes.

“The United States wins about 90 percent of the complaints we file,” says Dan Mitchell, co-founder and chairman of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity. “The bottom line is the WTO largely serves U.S. interests. We should use it to our advantage, not attack it.”

ADDENDUM: Thanks to Karl Rove and Mona Charen, among others, for kind words about Friday’s edition of the Morning Jolt.

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