Maximum Exasperation

What just happened didn’t happen. What you saw you didn’t see. America has never had a president who said such things, but it does now:

President Trump threatened on Friday to keep the federal government partly closed for “months or even years” if he did not get $5.6 billion for his wall at the southern border, and he warned that he was considering declaring a national emergency to build it without congressional approval.

Mr. Trump and Democratic leaders emerged from a two-hour meeting in the White House Situation Room without a deal to reopen government agencies that have already been shuttered for two weeks, and the two sides offered sharply contrasting views of where they stood. By day’s end, the two sides appeared to be still locked in a stalemate.

Democrats called the meeting “contentious” while the president and Republican leaders in the House called it “productive.” And while Mr. Trump announced that he had assigned Vice President Mike Pence to lead a “working group” to negotiate with Democrats over the weekend, Democrats said the phrase “working group” was never discussed.

What just happened? The president said he won’t budge an inch. He’ll keep the government shut down until he gets his wall, fully funded. There’s nothing to talk about, but he said they had a fine meeting talking about this The Democrats there said there was no real talk, but both sides did agree on one thing:

“We told the president we needed the government open,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, told reporters outside the White House. “He resisted. In fact, he said he’d keep the government closed for a very long period of time, months or even years.”

Appearing in the Rose Garden later, Mr. Trump confirmed the remark. “I did say that. Absolutely I said that,” he said, flanked by Mr. Pence; Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary; and House Republican leaders. “I don’t think it will, but I am prepared.”

And that’s that:

The impasse, heading into its third week, has closed parts of nine federal agencies, including the Interior Department and the Internal Revenue Service, and left 800,000 federal employees either furloughed or working without pay. Mr. Trump expressed little concern for their plight, telling reporters on Friday afternoon that when he hosted members of the Border Patrol union – his political allies – on Thursday at the White House, they told him not to worry about them, and that he was doing “a great thing for our country.”

They’ll gladly and enthusiastically work without pay for years, and lose their homes and everything, for this noble cause. Perhaps they didn’t really say that but that’s what Trump heard, and anyway, this is all about jobs:

Ever the real estate developer, Mr. Trump offered his vision for what the wall would look like, saying it would be either solid concrete or solid steel, though “steel is actually more expensive,” he said.

The president then boasted that its construction would be a boon for American industry: “All of the border things that we’ll be building will be done right here in the good old U.S.A. by steel companies that were practically out of business when I came into office.”

Trump likes to point out all the giant new steel mills that are popping up everywhere, even if none are, but that’s just him. He does that. Everyone shrugs, but here, some are trying to fix this without him:

Behind the scenes, there were some indications that a search for a way out of the impasse was underway. Some conservative commentators, including Sean Hannity of Fox News, who is close to Mr. Trump, may have signaled a path out, suggesting that the president resurrect the old Democratic notion of twinning wall funding with protections for the young immigrants brought illegally to the country as children who are known as Dreamers.

Such immigrants are currently protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, or DACA, a program created by President Barack Obama that Mr. Trump has moved to rescind. On his way to the White House meeting, Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader, seemed open to such a deal.

“We can find common ground,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters. “DACA is a problem, border security is a problem and anything that can make sure that we can get everything together and move forward, I’m willing to discuss.”

Trump isn’t:

While Mr. Trump said DACA was raised during the White House session, one Democratic aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private talks, said it came up only fleetingly. And in the news conference, Mr. Trump made clear that he did not want to address the DACA issue – which is now the subject of several lawsuits that are working their way through the federal courts – until the Supreme Court renders a final decision on whether Mr. Trump’s order to rescind the program can stand.

This is all moot now, and the last time Trump agreed to this specific bargain Stephen Miller set him straight and Trump reneged on everything. That will happen again – and the Daily Beast reports this same meeting a different way:

One of these knowledgeable sources told the Daily Beast President Trump kicked off the meeting with a rant lasting roughly 15 minutes that included his $5.6 billion demand for a border wall, and threatened that he was willing to keep the government closed for “years” if that’s what it took to get his wall. He also, unprompted, brought up the Democrats who want him impeached, and even blamed Pelosi for new Democratic congresswoman Rashida Tlaib saying at a party earlier this week that Democrats would impeach the “motherfucker” Trump. (It is unclear why Trump would think Pelosi was responsible for this.)

Trump proceeded to tell the room he was too popular to impeach.

Along with saying the word “fuck” at least three times throughout the meeting, the president bizarrely stated that he did not want to call the partial government shutdown a “shutdown,” according to the source. Instead, he referred to it as a “strike.”

What? What he was saying was that these eight hundred thousand federal employees rose up in righteous anger and refused to accept any pay or benefits until there was big new wall down there. Why hadn’t they said so? It wasn’t so:

During the course of this meeting, the Democrats in the room were visibly shaking their heads in exasperation.

And there was this:

President Donald Trump claimed without evidence on Friday that past presidents have privately confided to him that they regret not building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

But at least three of the four living U.S. presidents – Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – did no such thing.

Asked if Clinton told Trump that he should have built a border wall, Clinton spokesman Angel Ureña said, “He did not. In fact, they’ve not talked since the inauguration.”

Bush spokesman Freddy Ford also said the two men had not discussed the matter. And Obama, for his part, has not spoken with Trump since his inauguration, except for a brief exchange at George H. W. Bush’s funeral in Washington, D.C.

And he would not have said that:

Obama has consistently blasted Trump’s pledge to build a border wall. “Suggesting that we can build an endless wall along our borders, and blame our challenges on immigrants – that doesn’t just run counter to our history as the world’s melting pot, it contradicts the evidence that our growth and our innovation and our dynamism has always been spurred by our ability to attract strivers from every corner of the globe,” he said in 2016.

But Trump is who he is:

The White House did not respond to a request for an explanation of Trump’s remarks, which came during a lengthy appearance in the Rose Garden in which he insisted he won’t reopen the government until Democrats relent and approve more than $5 billion for the wall.

“This should have been done by all of the presidents that preceded me and they all know it,” Trump said. “Some of them have told me that we should have done it.”

Everyone shrugs. There’s no point in fighting this. Let this go too. But there is the real world:

Hundreds of Transportation Security Administration officers, who are required to work without paychecks through the partial government shutdown, have called out from work this week from at least four major airports, according to two senior agency officials and three TSA employee union officials.

The mass call outs could inevitably mean air travel is less secure, especially as the shutdown enters its second week with no clear end to the political stalemate in sight…

TSA spokesman Michael Bilello said the agency is “closely monitoring the situation” and that “screening wait times remain well within TSA standards,” although that could change if the number of call outs increases.

This had to happen:

Union officials stress that the absences are not part of an organized action, but believe the number of people calling out will likely increase… A union official, however, said that while some employees are upset about the pay, officers have said they are calling in sick for more practical reasons. Single parents can no longer afford child care or they are finding cash-paying jobs outside of government work to pay their rent and other bills, for example.

They’ve picked up that second job, just to survive, and they’re not showing up at the first job, the one where they have to work for free, now, and might be paid back later, in a year or two or more. That’s a rational choice, and for some the only choice, and that means many folks may not be going anywhere soon:

TSA is bracing for more call outs next week, according to veteran field officials. That means TSA officials at airports around the country – cognizant that long security lines frustrate passengers – could have tough decisions to make, including whether to let passengers board flights with less scrutiny.

That would slowly shut down all passenger air traffic. Someone should have thought of these things, but the Washington Post reports that no one in the Trump administration did:

Food stamps for 38 million low-income Americans would face severe reductions and more than $140 billion in tax refunds are at risk of being frozen or delayed if the government shutdown stretches into February, widespread disruptions that threaten to hurt the economy.

The Trump administration, which had not anticipated a long-term shutdown, recognized only this week the breadth of the potential impact, several senior administration officials said. The officials said they were focused now on understanding the scope of the consequences and determining whether there is anything they can do to intervene.

There’s a short way to say that. We did WHAT? Well, they did this:

Thousands of federal programs are affected by the shutdown, but few intersect with the public as much as the tax system and the Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the current version of food stamps.

The partial shutdown has cut off new funding to the Treasury Department and the USDA, leaving them largely unstaffed and crippling both departments’ ability to fulfill core functions.

The potential cuts to food stamps and suspension of tax refunds illustrate the compounding consequences of leaving large parts of the federal government unfunded indefinitely.

The SNAP program is rare among federal initiatives because it requires annual funding from Congress, even though its existence is automatically renewed.

One should know such things:

Congress has not allocated funding for SNAP beyond January, and the program’s emergency reserves would not cover even two-thirds of February’s payments, according to past disbursements… Agency officials have not said how they would address the shortfall, including whether they would prioritize who receives food aid or cut benefits for everyone across the board. If the shutdown continues through March, there would be no remaining money for benefits.

During the shutdown, the USDA office that administers SNAP has sent home 95 percent of its employees without pay, according to a flowchart on the department’s website.

“People in this country will go hungry,” said Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.). “It’s simple. They go hungry. These are working people. We’re not talking about people who are dogging it.”

And add in this factor too:

The disruption would hurt not only the families that receive the assistance but also grocers and other retailers where the money is spent.

They too are out of luck, and then there’s this:

Treasury Department officials, meanwhile, are trying to determine what to do with the flood of requests for tax refunds that will come in next month.

The Internal Revenue Service has sent home close to 90 percent of its staff without pay ahead of an extremely busy time for the tax agency.

From late January through March 2 of 2018, the IRS paid out $147.6 billion in tax refunds to 48.5 million households. That money could be frozen within the IRS if the refunds are stalled.

Early last year, as part of its contingency planning for possible government shutdowns, the IRS said it would not issue any tax refunds during a shutdown.

Oops:

Under normal schedules, tax returns for income earned in 2018 would be due April 15. People who anticipate receiving a tax refund – meaning they overpaid their taxes last year – tend to file their taxes as early as possible to recoup the funds quickly.

“It would be a huge political and economic hit for people who are expecting their $2,500 or $3,000 refund to not be able to get that money,” said Mark Mazur, a former top IRS official who served at Treasury during the Obama administration.

At least there will be fewer “spend your tax refund here” commercials on television. There will be nothing to spend, and worse than that:

The shutdown began with an acute impact, cutting off funding to pay 800,000 federal employees, closing national parks and museums, and limiting federal services. The workers are expected to begin feeling the consequences of the shutdown more sharply next week: They will miss their first paychecks on Jan. 11 if a resolution isn’t reached.

“A month into this, we’re going to see people start to get evicted and their cars start to be repossessed,” said David Borer, general counsel for the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 750,000 federal employees.

Donald Trump says it’s worth it, for the wall, but the price is high:

The cumulative impact of these changes could have a major impact on the economy.

Joseph Brusuelas, chief economist at RMS U.S., an accounting and consulting firm, said a prolonged shutdown would shave an entire percentage point off the U.S.’s economic growth, in part because of an “uncertainty tax” that would freeze spending by households and businesses.

“If one doesn’t know what’s going to happen with respect to their own income there will be a pull back on the purchase of big-ticket items,” he said. “Large firms will pull back on outlays on software, equipment and capital.”

And everything grinds to a halt, which is exasperating:

Roughly 800,000 federal employees are not getting paid, and CNN legal commentator Jeffery Toobin said it is a “disgrace” that federal employees are being forced to suffer with no end in sight.

“As a former federal employee myself, I just have to think about the largely forgotten thousands of people who have mortgage payments, who have food payments, who have lives to live, some of whom have to go to work without being paid,” Toobin said during a Friday panel discussion with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

He added, “The kind of suffering that they’re being forced to endure is a disgrace.”

But the man is who he is:

Toobin said the shutdown is starting to become more about the people than the politics. He then explained Trump’s history of mistreatment towards federal workers.

“Remember, even before this crisis, this president signed a massive tax cut for rich people and froze the pay of all federal workers,” Toobin said.

He added, “He didn’t even give them cost of living increases. For the secret service agents who follow him around the golf course – they’re not going to get a raise that they were supposed to get. I mean the abuse and maltreatment of our federal workers by this president is a disgrace.”

And see this – Legal Expert: Trump’s Idea that He Can Build the Wall on ‘National Emergency’ Grounds Is Destined to Fail – a detailed and scholarly survey of the law. Trump cannot do this. It not that it’s forbidden, as it seems to be. It’s that there’s no mechanism to do this.

And then it got worse:

While hundreds of thousands of federal workers go without pay and the government is partially shut down, scores of senior Trump political appointees are poised to receive annual raises of about $10,000 a year.

The pay increases for Cabinet secretaries, deputy secretaries, top administrators and even Vice President Pence are scheduled to go into effect Saturday without legislation to stop them, according to documents issued by the Office of Personnel Management and experts in federal pay.

That’s the irony here:

The raises, for hundreds of appointees, including ambassadors, appear to be a consequence of the shutdown: When lawmakers failed to pass bills Dec. 21 to fund multiple federal agencies, an existing pay freeze lapsed. It was enacted by Congress in 2013 for top executives and was renewed each year since then. The raises will occur because that freeze will expire Saturday without legislative action, allowing the increases that accumulated over those years to kick in. The raises start with paychecks to be issued next week.

Oops:

Cabinet secretaries would be entitled to a jump in annual salary from $199,700 to $210,700. Deputy secretaries would be entitled to a raise from $179,700 to $189,600. Others affected are undersecretaries, deputy directors and other top administrators.

Pence’s pay is scheduled to rise from $230,700 to $243,500. He told reporters Friday afternoon he would turn down the raise.

Not so fast there, sir:

An administration official later said Pence’s staff believes he has to accept the raise during the shutdown and pay taxes on it, but will reimburse the Treasury or donate the pay to charity.

It was unclear whether the White House had the authority to stop the increases.

President Trump was asked by a reporter Friday whether he would consider halting the raises, or halting them during the shutdown.

“I might consider that,” Trump said.

The Democrats have already considered that, not that it matters:

The Democrat-led House included a continuation of the executive pay freeze in a bill the chamber passed late Thursday to reopen parts of the government without the funding for a border wall Trump wants. But that legislation is said to be dead on arrival in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says he will not vote on a bill the president will not sign.

And then it got worse:

The partial government shutdown has frustrated tourists, delayed trash pickup in national parks and shut off the Smithsonian Zoo’s beloved panda cam. But as the closure drags on with no end in sight, it’s also jeopardizing the welfare of some of America’s poorest families.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is one of the seven agencies most directly affected by the standoff between President Donald Trump, who is demanding $5 billion in border wall funding, and congressional Democrats, who want to reopen the government without it. Since Dec. 22, the vast majority of federal housing employees have been forced to stay home without pay — prohibited from doing any work, including responding to emails.

This will kill people:

Most of HUD’s routine enforcement activities have been suspended, including mandatory health and safety inspections of housing for low-income families, the elderly and people with disabilities, according to the shutdown contingency plan that HUD posted on its website. Public housing officials say they don’t know how long rental assistance payments will keep coming from the government, and a suspension could put millions of tenants at risk if the shutdown drags on into February…

Private landlords who participate in the Section 8 voucher program offer affordable housing to low-income tenants in return for monthly rental subsidies from local housing authorities funded by the federal government. If that money dries up, “landlords could start to evict people,” said Chad Williams, executive director of the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority. “We have never been in that situation.”

But what just happened didn’t happen and what you just saw you didn’t see. America has never had a president like this before. And now it’s maximum exasperation, and that leads to… something. It won’t be nice.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to Maximum Exasperation

  1. Ed says:

    If government services were valuable and the market wanted them, would they be provided on a compulsory basis?

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