The government shutdown: border security or employment fatality?

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There is not a citizen in the United States—at least of those paying attention to recent headlines—that would deny the polarity of today’s politics. Whether one is a staunch Republican or loyal Democrat, the current state of American democracy is nothing short of catastrophic. The polarizing issue dominating the news for the past weeks has been the partial government shutdown and, of course, the powder keg that initiated it: The infamous wall intended to line the United States-Mexico border. Either side of the political aisle has provided substantial claims for its arguments; however, the reluctance of either side to concede, or merely to compromise, has left many citizens in distress—citizens these lawmakers promised to serve.

On Dec. 22, 2018, the partial government shutdown erupted, closing approximately one-quarter of the government and affecting nine cabinet-level departments. As the argument over funding the President’s $5.7 billion wall ensued, more workers were adversely affected, with thousands taking to the streets in opposition of the shutdown and the subsequent hold placed on their wages. Having control of the House, Democrats passed legislation enabling them to reopen the government on Jan. 3; however, their bill neglected to fund the issue at hand, rendering it ineffective in the White House. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer met with President Trump on Wednesday, following their contradictory addresses to the nation the prior Tuesday night. Each side refusing to reach an agreement, President Trump fled the meeting, continuing the government’s closure and leaving some 800,000 federal employees out of pay. Specifically, 380,000 workers have been put on unpaid leaves of absence, and 420,000 employees are working without pay. In stark contrast, members of Congress will continue receiving their paychecks provided that their salaries are funded through permanent law, not yearly appropriations. As of Saturday, Jan. 12, the government shutdown is the longest in history, with the previous one lasting 21 days in 1995. Regardless of one’s views, it is indisputable that action needs to take place within not months, not weeks, but days.

In analyzing each party’s stance, Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi, Charles Schumer and Bernie Sanders believe that border security is important, but not to the degree to which Republican leaders see it nor to the point to which a stronger border such as a wall or steel barrier is warranted. House Speaker Pelosi noted in her national address that Democrats are in favor of enhanced ports of entry and roads at the border, technology to scan vehicles for drugs entering the country, increased personnel and innovation to encourage trade and legal immigration. By comparison, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders released his own address Tuesday night stating that the national emergency is not border security nor illegal immigration, but the government shutdown leaving thousands of Americans—many of whom are veterans—unemployed.

Republicans such as the President himself and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell argue that border security is an unbridled issue that can only be remedied with a wall. In his address from the Oval Office, President Trump recalled the California police officer Cpl. Ronil Singh, who was murdered on Dec. 26 by an illegal immigrant suspected of drunk driving. Labeling the current state of the border as a “humanitarian and security crisis” and citing the vast quantities of U.S. citizens dying from illegal drug consumption sourced from Mexico, the President pleaded with the American public in supporting his plans for the border. Working alongside President Trump, Senate Majority Leader McConnell has announced that he refuses to sign legislation if it does not yield any intent to meet the President’s demands for funding the wall.

The country stands today with several routes on which to embark. One solution to reopening the government is for the President to declare a national emergency and bypass Congress in constructing the wall. The problem with pursuing this course of action is that the 1976 law that enables the Commander-in-Chief to employ this power did not stipulate what such an emergency is. What’s more, the law allows Congress to vote on a resolution that would reject the President’s emergency declaration. In 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the President would still need to sign the resolution and if he vetoed it, Congress would then require a two-thirds majority vote to override the veto. Given the current state of both the executive and legislative branches and the fact that both Republican and Democratic Congressmen and women are aligning with their respective parties, further controversy would ensue and time wasted in waiting for a resolution to be proposed by Congress, undeniably vetoed by the President and once again given to Congress to vote.

Another simpler and possibly more efficient route does exist. For one, the Democrats have agreed to devote $1.3 billion for border security, yet President Trump has repeatedly requested $5.7 billion for the concrete wall or—naming it as an appeal to his Democratic counterparts—steel barrier. The $4.4 billion difference is less than half of a percentage of the entire federal budget for 2019 of $4.407 trillion. Both parties acknowledge that the government shutdown is brutally affecting countless American workers. Both parties acknowledge that border security—the underlying cause of the shutdown’s debate—is an issue that needs to be addressed. While they primarily differ in opinion on the means for which the border must be secured and the amount of funding to be allotted to such security, they should realize that it would be a mere 0.09984% increase or decrease out of the total budget between their two amounts. Over the next few weeks, all of America will be watching to see whether the Congressional leadership can push aside their partisan politics to come to a compromise and do what they were elected to do: put their country first. 

 

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