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US shutdown continues

Democrats and Republicans in the US Capitol fail to reach an agreement on funding for Trump’s border wall, essential government services lie dormant


Image:The US National Archives

THOUSANDS OF FEDERAL government employees continue to work for no pay as the longest government shutdown in American history enters day 32. As Democrats and Republicans in the US Capitol fail to reach an agreement on funding for Trump’s border wall, essential government services lie dormant, and some government employees are being forced to use soup kitchens to feed themselves and their families.The government has “shut down” because House Democrats, who are responsible for making funds available for federal agencies through annual budgetary appropriations, have yet to reach an agreement with President Trump. Both are required to lend their support to the eventual funding bill. Without the budget agreement, agencies are funded through temporary measures, but these programmes effectively ran out of funding just before Christmas.The sticking point is a section allocating $5 billion dollars for the border wall. This represents a tiny part of the total federal budget, which last year hit around $4 trillion. This dispute therefore is more a concern of ideology than it is financial responsibility.

Democrats entered office promising to stall key parts of Trump’s agenda, and this is the first test of their ability to achieve that. Both sides have stakes in the game: the wall was, of course a key campaign pledge for President Trump, who has said he is willing to let the shutdown continue for “months or even years” until Democrats acquiesce. Meanwhile, as federal agencies remain unfunded, 800 000 government workers have not received paychecks since December.  Impact varies by agency: employees of National Parks and the Food & Drug Administration have been sent home without pay, whereas the Transport Security Administration (TSA) has required its border officials and air traffic controllers to work for free to keep essential services running. The impact of this unpaid work has been felt both by government employees, and by the US economy, which is expected to lose around $1 billion a week for the duration of the shut-down according to the White House Council of Economic Advisors. The President personally bought the Clemson University football team a huge buffet of fast food last week after the shutdown put most of his staff on leave. Mr Trump lauded the “great American food” which attracted mockery from many critics, but quarterback Trevor Lawrence said “it was awesome”. There are a few obvious routes to ending the shutdown.

FiveThirtyEight reported last week that most Americans blame Trump for the shutdown: under normal political expectations, he might be expected to cave first and make a deal with the Democrats.Alternatively, a group of Senators led by Lindsay Graham have suggested a temporary three-week re-opening to allow for negotiation time. If a compromise cannot be reached, Trump has expressed his willingness to declare a ‘national emergency’ and give himself extra powers to fund his wall.This is unlikely considering Congressional Republicans , concerned about government over-reach, have made clear that they don’t support the policy. With no solution presenting itself, the US shut-down could be set to go on for some time to come despite the President’s offering of a deal this weekend.

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