EDITORIAL: Urgency needed in shutdown talks

York Dispatch Editorial Board

It has been repeatedly demonstrated that President Donald Trump lives in a world of his own making (with a good deal of conservative media enabling). So it is no surprise that his grasp of the true ramifications of the ongoing government shutdown is, shall we say, tenuous.

From suggesting it be referred to as a “strike” (which is more or less the opposite of a shutdown) to predicting it could go on for months, or even years, the president has been far too cavalier about the nation’s operations and economy — not to mention the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

As it enters its third week, the government shutdown is only now beginning to be felt to its full extent. National parks and museums that tapped financial reserves to remain open temporarily are closing. Government employees whose work schedules were punctuated by holiday-related vacation days are beginning to miss paychecks. Airport security agents are working without pay or, increasingly, calling in sick.

Trash builds up along the National Mall as trash collectors are off work during a partial shutdown of the federal government, on Dec. 24, 2018 in Washington, D.C. Parts of the U.S. government shut down on Saturday for the third time this year after a bipartisan spending deal collapsed over President Donald Trump's demands for more money to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. (Olivier Douliery/ Abaca Press/TNS)

Deeper pain lies ahead. Should the shutdown stretch even into next month, the nearly 40 million Americans who rely on the nation’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) could see those benefits disrupted.

Economic reverberations will closely follow. As hundreds of thousands of employees go without paychecks and millions more are left without SNAP benefits, the businesses where those funds are spent — grocery stores, big-box stores and the like — will become secondary victims.

All of which demands an immediacy to budget negotiations that, frankly, has been nonexistent at the White House.

After agreeing to a short-term spending plan in December that passed in the Senate unanimously, the ever-unpredictable Trump did a “180,” persuaded by conservative propagandists that it was more important to be seen as insisting on his long-promised border wall than in securing a properly functioning government. (Never mind that the short-term spending package provided a window for negotiations on border security and related issues.)

And there the president has sat, refusing to agree to any budget that doesn’t deliver the $5 billion ransom he has demanded to make good on his political promise.

Newly seated House Democrats have offered several spending plans that provide funding for border security, somewhere between $1.3 billion and $1.6 billion. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continues to provide cover for Trump by refusing to bring any spending bill to the floor unless the president provides assurances he’ll sign it (not that this worked out so well the last time around).

Clearly, the ball is in the president’s court. It is his shutdown, as he proudly proclaimed last month. He is the sticking point to ending it.

To do so, the president will need to show a little uncharacteristic concern for interests other than his own. Nonchalant suggestions that the shutdown may be measured in months — it is already the third-longest in government history — ignore the real pain caused by dysfunctional government. Daily Twitter tirades mischaracterizing popular support for a wall (a majority of Americans oppose it) or Democratic positions on illegal immigration (the party strongly supports comprehensive border security) obscure the issue and prolong the debate.

The president must recognize the real and increasing harm that is being done to the nation, its economy and its citizens as government operations go unfunded. His rigid insistence on an unpopular, unnecessary and ineffective wall must be modified. And real urgency must be brought to negotiations.

If the president can’t see the necessity of immediate action perhaps congressional Republicans, some of whom have already broke with Trump on the issue, can help him see the light.

If not, the nation could be in for a long, dark, winter.