Trump threatens government shutdown if he doesn’t get his wall
President Donald Trump in the Cabinet Room of the White House. AP Photo | Evan Vucci

WASHINGTON—Despite President Trump’s declaration that he wanted a government shutdown at midnight Feb. 8 if Congress doesn’t give him his $25 billion Mexican Wall and other anti-immigrant measures, Senate GOP and Democratic leaders announced at midday on Feb. 7 they reached a deal on keeping the government open. The 2-year deal on overall spending limits does not, however, do anything for the Dreamers other than leave them in a cruel state of limbo.

And all is not set in stone. Besides Trump’s shutdown demand, the GOP-run U.S. House, and particularly the Radical Right Freedom Caucus, has yet to agree. The Freedom Caucus, which controls enough votes there to derail any spending agreement, wants to cut domestic spending and hates the Dreamers and all undocumented people.

The deal lifts budget caps for two years on both defense and domestic spending and dumps the automatic budget cuts, called the sequester, which would have hit agencies and programs otherwise. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., touted its $80 billion increase for the military. Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the deal “is the best thing we’ve done for the middle class” and the military “for a long time.”

Neither mentioned the Dreamers. Trump had said he’d shut down the government if they were in the deal.

And some of the military money could go for another Trump brainstorm: A massive missile-laden, heavy-tank parade of military might down Pennsylvania Avenue – date to be announced – reminiscent of those in totalitarian nations. The spectacle also would tear up the historic thoroughfare’s pavement from the Capitol to the White House.

“Let’s have a shutdown. We’ll do a shutdown and it’s worth it for our country,” Trump urged the day before the Senate leaders hammered out the agreement. “I’d love to see a shutdown if we don’t get this stuff taken care of,” he told law enforcement officials and lawmakers at the White House.

“If we have to shut it down because the Democrats don’t want safety and, unrelated but still related, they don’t want to take care of our military, then shut it down,” the president added. “We’ll go with another shutdown.”

Trump wanted a shutdown unless he got the tough immigration bill he outlined, and not legislation – which congressional Democrats back – to legally let the 690,000-800,000 registered Dreamers stay in the U.S. Trump needs the votes from nine Senate Democrats to pass the money bill to keep the government going, as the GOP has only 51 senators out of 100.

He didn’t get his tough immigration bill, but there’s nothing for the Dreamers in the agreement, either.

There’s also nothing for retired miners and their heirs, but Mine Workers spokesman Phil Smith says they shouldn’t worry. There’s enough money now in the Mine Workers 1974 pension fund – money from a per-ton tax on coal plus bridge money put in December – to keep it going through 2022.

Instead, the money bill sets up a special congressional commission to tackle the problems of all the financially ailing multi-employer pension plans. Of the miners and their heirs, “Nobody’s going to lose their pensions tomorrow or next week, but we’ve got to make sure they’ll never lose them,” Smith said.

The Dreamers originally came here as undocumented youngsters brought by their parents. Some 85 percent of them now work or are in the military, openly, under former Democratic President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Trump is abolishing DACA as of March 5 and they then come under threat of being deported from the only country they know.

Trump says he would agree to immigration bill legalizing the Dreamers but only after a torturous 12-year path to citizenship, and imposition policies that would virtually end family member migration to the U.S., OK funds to build his $25 billion Mexican Wall, and trash a U.S. visa program which encourages diversity in migrants.

Unions and their allies strongly back keeping the Dreamers here for good. Many Dreamers work in construction unions, thousands are members of the American Federation of Teachers and others work in other unionized occupations.

“The White House’s immigration framework is callous and racist,” said Service Employees Executive Vice President Rocio Saenz in a statement.

“It uses Dreamers as bait to demand funding for an unnecessary and wasteful wall at the expense of working people. After everything that Trump has done and said about Muslims, immigrants and people of color, Trump and his administration have finally found a way to make their anti-immigrant and nativist wish list come to fruition,” Saenz added.

“Today, House Republicans are bringing a partisan, short-term continuing resolution that funds community health centers while cutting the prevention fund and failing to reauthorize other vital programs, such as home nursing visits for at-risk new mothers and their babies,” Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told a health care conference in the morning.

“Republicans need to stop treating health programs like a basket of treats to dangle before Democrats as a way of trying to force us into giving them votes to kick the can on the many other major decisions before Congress. Moreover, the short-term patches that Republicans enacted have had the negative consequence of exacerbating uncertainty.”

Unions made that same point in a statement sent to a Feb. 6 Senate hearing about the drastic impacts of prior shutdowns and temporary money bills – continuing resolutions – on the public and their members.

David Cox, president of the biggest federal workers union, AFGE, praised the Senate agreement. It “ensures the government stays open for business and keeps federal employees working on behalf of the American people,” he said.

“The budget would provide long-overdue increases for both our military and non-defense agencies. Most federal agencies have been limping by on borrowed time for far too long due to harmful sequestration cuts. This budget will give agencies much-needed resources to invest in the programs and services that the public expects and deserves.”

His union submitted prepared testimony to a Feb. 6 Senate hearing on the impacts of the last long government shutdown – the 3-week closure in 2013 engineered by right wing Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and the House Freedom Caucus.

They included $2 billion in lost federal workers’ pay, 1,400 cancelled Occupational Safety and Health Administration worksite inspections and essential services – such as air traffic control – limping along.

The Environmental Protection Agency had to stop inspecting 1,200 hazardous waste sites its staff probes every week and the IRS had to stop collecting $1 billion in tax revenues it takes in every seven days. And the Bureau of Land Management couldn’t process 200 applications from private firms for mineral prospecting on federal lands. AFGE cited many other negative examples and impacts, as did OMB.

Article updated Feb. 7 at 2 p.m.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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