Trump denied money for border wall; vows government shutdown
President Donald Trump threw open the possibility of a government shutdown, claiming he'd happily close the government if Congress doesn't give him money for his Mexican border all at a meeting with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., left, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., not shown, Dec. 11. Pictured center is Vice President Mike Pence. | Evan Vucci / AP

WASHINGTON—In a bad-news good-news mix for the nation’s two million federal workers–especially for up to 800,000 in agencies whose money runs out at midnight on Dec. 21–two lawmakers heavily involved with fed workers’ issues predict Congress will pass a money bill to keep the government going through Feb. 8. The Senate approved it Dec. 19.

That’s the good news Sen. Ben Cardin and Rep. Elijah Cummings, both D-Md., reported to a Dec. 19 telephone press conference hosted by the Government Employees (AFGE), the largest union for federal workers.

The bad news is GOP President Donald Trump said the next day he won’t sign the bill, because it still doesn’t give him $5 billion for his Mexican Wall at the U.S.’s southern border–a wall Congress doesn’t want. That means a quarter of the government will shut down at midnight Dec. 21.

And the second piece of bad news is the draft money bill, called a continuing resolution (CR), does not include a 1.9 percent pay raise for all two million federal workers. The Senate previously voted for the raise. The GOP-run House didn’t.

No raise means a Trump-imposed pay freeze for all the feds and their families, which the lawmakers and two AFGE local presidents said would hurt workers. But a shutdown would devastate them.

“The Republicans control the entire government and have the responsibility to keep the government running,” said Cummings, who will take chair the House committee that deals with federal workers’ issues when Democrats take control of the U.S. House on Jan. 3.

Cummings predicted the House would pass a continuing resolution, but did not say how many of its present GOP majority would back or buck Trump.

The pay raise and the shutdown are important not just to the feds, but to everybody, the local leaders, Cummings, Cardin, and AFGE President J. David Cox said. That’s because many of the federal services that would cease if the agencies shut down are vital to everyone in the country.

Cox pledged the union would fight “night and day” and right now—not waiting for the Democratic House takeover—against the shutdown and for the pay raise. “The real losers in a government shutdown are the American taxpayers,” he declared.

“If FEMA shuts down, we still have to be out in the field” performing very basic emergency services, but nothing else, said Steve Reeves, president of the nationwide AFGE local for Federal Emergency Management Agency workers. “We can only perform the safety and security assignments.”

If a disaster occurs, “all we can do is make sure the buildings don’t burn down,” he added.

“Federal prisons are already volatile environments” due to short-staffing “where everybody is a corrections officer, even if you’re a secretary” and thus would have to work without pay if a shutdown occurs, says Richard Heldress, president of AFGE Local 420 at the Hazelton federal prison in West Virginia. A shutdown would only make things worse, he warned.

“Small businesses, consumers and farmers will all be hurt,” Cummings said. The last long shutdown—orchestrated by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s demand that Congress repeal the Affordable Care Act—lasted 13 days, cost the economy 120,000 jobs, the workers $2 billion in pay, and the economy billions more in growth, the congressman said.

“Democrats want to work with the president, and offered several options to him” to avoid the shutdown, Cummings explained. One was a continuing resolution covering all the agencies that could shut down, funding them at the present levels, through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The other was a package: One measure combining money bills lawmakers basically approved—a few small details must be worked out—covering all but one of the endangered agencies for the rest of the fiscal year. They include the Transportation, Treasury, Justice, Agriculture, and Commerce Departments.

The second part of the package was a fiscal-year-long continuing resolution, at last year’s funding levels, for the omitted agency, the Homeland Security Department. That’s where Trump wants his Mexican Wall money, all $5 billion, included. Congress doesn’t. It’ll give him $1.3 billion for “border security improvements,” but none of it would go for the wall.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., announced he would try to amend any continuing resolution to include the pay raise.

Public opinion polls show heavy majorities against a shutdown and against Trump’s wall. That’s bolstered the Democrats’ stand against Trump, and they have enough votes to stop his wall: The House GOP is in disarray, and needs Democrats to help pass any money bill. The Senate has only 51 Republicans, but money bills need 60 votes to pass, so they need Democrats there, too.

Cox laid the blame on Trump for the mess. So did the AFL-CIO.

Congress “was moving right along,” to pass the money bills, “but the president said he’d shut the government down if he didn’t get it,” referring to the Mexican Wall, Cox said. “More than 700,000 workers would be affected, and many of those would be required to go to work and not get paid.” Cardin, Cummings, and the union “are doing everything in our power” to prevent that outcome—and ensure the pay raise, too, the union leader added.

“These unnecessary political games affect” hundreds of thousands of workers, the AFL-CIO said in a statement. “During a partial shutdown, these workers will continue to show up for work and put their lives on the line—but won’t take home a paycheck.”

Tony Reardon, president of the second-largest federal workers union, the Treasury Employees, wrote congressional leaders on Dec. 18, also urging them to defy Trump.


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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