The growing impact of the shutdown
President Trump refused to budge this week on his demand for $5.7 billion to fund a border wall, scorning Republican efforts at a compromise to end the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. With Trump threatening to prolong a partial shutdown for “months or even years,” the federal workforce is increasingly strained. About 800,000 workers are furloughed or working without pay, and each has already lost an average of $5,000 in wages; $200 million in federal wages are going unpaid every day. The Trump administration called tens of thousands of employees back to work this week to process taxes and inspect aircraft, food, and drugs. Yet tax audits, financial fraud probes, and power plant inspections are on hiatus; national parks operating with skeleton staffs have been trashed; and Houston and Miami airport terminals closed after a surge of TSA workers called in sick.
White House economists now project each week of the shutdown cuts quarterly economic growth by 0.13 percent, double their initial estimate. Democrats are making the shutdown hit close to home for the president: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Trump that the Jan. 29 State of the Union address should be postponed. Trump has mulled ways to fund the wall without Congress, including declaring a national emergency—an option he said he’d almost “definitely” pursue, before reversing course and taking it off the table. Regardless, his signature campaign proposal appears nonnegotiable. “I promised safety and security for the American people,” Trump said on Twitter. “Elections have consequences!”
What the columnists said
The wall-or-nothing camp has “brushed aside” the plight of federal workers “with astounding callousness,” said Catherine Rampell in WashingtonPost.com. Republicans love to champion “the dignity of work,” yet they appear unmoved by reports of unpaid government employees, many of whom make less than $50,000 a year, “selling their children’s toys on Craigslist, rationing their insulin,” and delaying surgeries.
It takes two to stalemate, said William McGurn in The Wall Street Journal. “Between half and two-thirds of Americans” blame Trump for the shutdown, but those same polls show “a third to a quarter” blaming Pelosi. Don’t expect “an epic capitulation” from either side—it would be “too humiliating”—but it’s equally misguided to think it’s “only a matter of time” before the GOP coalition “cracks.” Trump and the Democrats are both on the hook.
Here’s what could make Trump blink, said Noah Smith in Bloomberg.com. The workers affected by the shutdown “constitute about 3 percent of the country’s labor force.” Recessions usually bring about a 2 to 4 percent increase in unemployment. Being furloughed isn’t the same as being unemployed, but the “macroeconomic spillovers” might be comparable. Worse, the shutdown could soon provoke companies to cut investment, “which could quickly ripple through the supply chain.” Is the wall really worth a recession?