The longest budget lock in history is a shame for the US. But Donald Trump only aggravates a problem that arose long before his presidency, says Michael Knigge.
The US Coast Guard Commander complained to Twitter that his organization “depends on donations to get through the day.” That is simply “unacceptable”. The Coast Guard is the only military division under the Ministry of Homeland Security that is directly affected by the shutdown. She continues to fulfill her very important responsibilities, but without being able to pay for her more than 40,000 active members.
The head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has described the shutdown as the “biggest operational crisis” his institution has ever faced. This checks the safety of food and is also responsible for the approval of new drugs. Because there is no money, the agency initially interrupted food control. Recently, however, some of the staff were recalled to review at least those foods that are considered to be particularly risky. But whether on forced leave or special duty, to make US food supplies as safe as possible, FDA employees will not get paid either way.
Risk to national security
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which oversees airport security, said last week, “Many employees report they can not be at work because of financial shortages.” The TSA is directly affected by the budget freeze in the US. Some of its approximately 50,000 airport security personnel are considered “indispensable” and have been asked to continue working without pay. As they are among the lowest paid civil servants anyway, many of them do not have the opportunity to work without salary for the time being – so they start looking for other jobs.
These are just three examples of many. They show that the longest shutdown in US history is now threatening national security. This is not a criticism of the tens of thousands of public employees who continue to appear in their jobs, although they have no idea when the next salary will come.
Michael Knigge, DW correspondent in Washington
On the contrary, they deserve great respect for their loyalty and commitment: they are doing their best to keep their fellow citizens safe and that the land works despite the shutdown. But it is clear that mishaps or errors in critical areas of public life become more likely when working for extended periods of time without a budget and only with an emergency occupation of unpaid forces.
The budget freeze is also a shame for the international reputation of the country. Similar to the case of the regularly escalating gun violence in the US, the world is watching now too – with the ghastly fascination of staring at an accidental train that is still moving on slowly.
How can the most powerful country in the world do it – because of a border wall? Why is the US harming the 800,000 public sector employees directly affected by the shutdown and the millions of indirectly affected citizens, as well as the economy and security of the country?
Trump does not bear the guilt alone
The obvious answer is Donald Trump – and she would not be wrong. Before the shutdown, the president boasted that he would be proud to call a ban if necessary to force the Democrats to co-finance his election pledge to build the Wall on the Mexican border. Trump made no secret that he was not at all interested in the plight of the civil servants concerned.
Nonetheless, it is important to understand the context in which such a move has become tangible for the republican MPs who support and thus facilitate the shutdown. Republicans have long held that the public sector is too big, too expensive and too inefficient – and that the government is also interfering in too many areas. Even US President Ronald Reagan, a conservative figurehead, said in his inaugural address that the state was the problem, not the solution.
It is not surprising, then, that Trump has pushed this repudiation of the Republicans against the state sector to extremes. His shutdown is now the longest in US history, for one of the most preposterous reasons why the country has ever been harmed.
A “bottoming out” does not exist
But not only Trump alone continues the budget lock. His anti-state impulses have recently been further reinforced by his new Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. In his former job, the former Conservative Tea Party MP did its best to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In his new job, Mulvaney, a zealous advocate of a downsizing of the state sector, is reported to be one of the key supporters of Trump’s uncompromising budget-free stance. These include the members of the “Freedom Caucus” in the US Congress, an association of particularly conservative members of the Republican Party.
Against this backdrop, and given the increasingly personal conflict between Trump and the House Speaker, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, there is still no way out of this unprecedented crisis. But that does not mean that finally the “bottom” in the relations between Trump and the Democrats has been reached. There simply is no “bottomed out” with this president.