Economic Fallout Mounts as US Government Shutdown Continues
VOA News/Ken Bredemeier & Chris Hannas
The White House has doubled projections of how much economic growth is being lost because of the partial government shutdown, now in a record 26th day with no end in sight to President Donald Trump’s standoff with opposition Democrats over his demand for taxpayer money to build a barrier at the southern border with Mexico.
Kevin Hassett, the chairman of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers, said Tuesday the country’s robust economy has already lost a half percentage point from the shutdown, during which 800,000 government workers have been furloughed or forced to work without pay. He said quarterly economic growth is being reduced by .13 of a percent each week the shutdown continues.
Trump is meeting Wednesday with a group of nearly 50 Democratic and Republican lawmakers that calls itself the Problem Solvers Caucus, as he continues to make the case for more than $5 billion in funding for construction of the border wall aimed at stopping illegal migration into the United States. Democrats have offered $1.3 billion in new border security funding, but none specifically for a wall.
Taking to Twitter, Trump cited other examples of walls he argued were 100 percent successful.
Pelosi asks to delay State of Union speech
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and a staunch opponent of Trump’s call for a wall, asked him Wednesday to delay his scheduled January 29 State of the Union address before Congress unless the shutdown ends this week, or deliver his address in writing, a practice presidents followed more than 100 years ago.
Pelosi cited security concerns, noting that the U.S. Secret Service, which guards Trump and his family, and the Homeland Security agency have not been funded during the shutdown, “with critical departments hamstrung by furloughs.”
About one-fourth of government operations has been impacted since December 22, closing some museums, curtailing airport security operations and limiting food inspections, among other government services.
The Trump administration recalled 50,000 federal civil servants on Tuesday, many of them to help process refunds during the country’s annual tax return filing season, but they, like other “essential” employees already working without being paid, also will not be compensated until the impasse over border wall funding ends.
Bill guarantees back pay
Trump is set Wednesday to sign a bill to guarantee that federal workers, regardless of whether they were forced to work or furloughed during the shutdown, eventually get paid their lost wages, as has been done during previous shutdowns over the last several decades.
Workers for private contract companies hired by the government, however, are unlikely to recoup lost wages. If the shutdown lasts another week, government workers will miss their second paycheck this month.
Helping hand for furloughed workers
Some financial institutions have adopted programs to help those workers deal with a sudden loss in income, while a number of Washington area restaurants are giving away meals to federal workers.
The charity World Central Kitchen, which is known for its work feeding people in disaster zones such as Puerto Rico after a hurricane devastated the U.S. territory in 2017, is opening a popup stand Wednesday in Washington to feed federal employees.
The site is on Pennsylvania Avenue, about halfway between the Capitol and the White House, and the group’s founder, chef José Andrés, said the location is symbolic of the need for Americans to come together.
“We’re going to be open for any federal family that needs food,” Andrés said in a Twitter video announcing the project. “We will have food for you to eat or food to take home. But also I hope it will be a call to action for our senators and congressman and especially President Trump to make sure that we end this moment in the history of America where families are about to go hungry.”
While Trump and Democratic leaders blame each other for the situation dragging on, a number of recent polls have put more of the responsibility on the president.
Most Americans blame Trump for impasse
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Tuesday indicated 51 percent of respondents blame Trump and 34 percent blame congressional Democrats. In the same poll, 62 percent of people said they support adding more border patrol agents, and there was a roughly even split of 43 percent of people both supporting and opposing additional fencing at the border.
The Senate and House were both due to be in recess next week, but leaders in both chambers have said that break will be canceled if the shutdown is still in effect.
“We’re going to stay out for a long time, if we have to,” Trump told supporters in a conference call Tuesday.
In Congress, the House has passed several bills that would follow Pelosi’s plan to reopen the government for now and debate the border later, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not bring up any legislation that Trump would not support.
McConnell vs Schumer
McConnell on Tuesday called on Senate Democrats to make “an important choice.”
“They could stand with common sense, with border experts, with federal workers, and with their own past voting records by the way, or they could continue to remain passive spectators complaining from the sidelines as the speaker refuses to negotiate with the White House,” McConnell said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump should “see the pain” the shutdown is causing.
“He’d benefit from listening to the stories of federal civil servants who were working without pay, locked out of their jobs, maybe then President Trump will understand the damage he’s causing by holding these people hostage until he gets what he wants,” Schumer said. “Meanwhile, Leader McConnell, Senate Republicans are hiding in the shadows as if they have some kind of aversion to doing their job when it involves the slightest break with the president.”