Who hurts the most from the big shutdown?

Paul Louis Metzger
Multnomah University professor,
Director of Institute for the Theology of Culture

Who pays or suffers most for the government shutdown based on the wall erected between the White House and Congress?

Based on one of his tweets, it would appear President Trump believes he is suffering for the shutdown. He tweeted “poor me” as he stayed at the White House in Washington on Christmas rather than depart for his luxurious Florida estate:

“I am all alone (poor me) in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed Border Security. At some point the Democrats not wanting to make a deal will cost our Country more money than the Border Wall we are all talking about. Crazy!”

For their part, rather than feel sorry for him, Democratic congressional leaders Senator Schumer and Representative Pelosi placed the blame for the shutdown squarely on President Trump’s shoulders:

“Different people from the same White House are saying different things about what the president would accept or not accept to end his Trump Shutdown, making it impossible to know where they stand at any given moment,” Schumer and Pelosi said. “The president wanted the shutdown, but he seems not to know how to get himself out of it.”

Some argue that it is not the President who has suffered as he himself tweeted, but Congress who continues to cede power to the Executive branch as evidenced by the shutdown:

“As the third government shutdown of the Trump era dragged into Christmas, lawmakers from both parties said on Monday that the partial lapse in government funding was in large part the consequence of Congress’s ceding of power to the executive branch, a longstanding trend that may have peaked in the Trump era.”

No doubt the President and lawmakers will pay for the shutdown in the polls and certain constituency bases. But according to one news source, they still get paid no matter how long the shutdown lasts. The same source also notes:

“The president receives a salary of $400,000 a year, plus a $50,000 expense allowance, plus money for travel and entertainment. Senators and representatives earn $174,000 annually.”

I believe many political leaders serve from a sense of duty to the nation and may even sacrifice personal gain in the private sector to pursue public office. Having said that, the current ordeal calls to mind something Simon Sinek said: “In the military, they give medals to people who sacrifice themselves so that others may gain…In business, they give bonuses to people who sacrifice others so that they may gain.” How does our current federal government function–like the military, or in the minds of many, business as usual?

Those who pay most for the shutdown are the one who have the least available means of paying. Many federal employees fit this description. Their fears of making ends meet, putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their heads are real. (Refer here, here, and here).

Consider also what the shutdown means for many of America’s most vulnerable: “Shutdown to cut office overseeing federal food stamps by 95 percent.” Another article highlights the damage done by the government shutdown in many sectors of the population:

“Americans can still expect to get their SNAP benefits (commonly known as food stamps) in January but will likely be unable to receive any assistance from program representatives. Those who rely on WIC or food distribution programs on Native American reservations may have greater difficulty. Those programs will lose funding, and support is subject to food availability. The Child and Adult Care Food Program and Summer Food Service Program will run out of funding by February, as will subsidized lunch and breakfast programs in public schools.”

The President and Congress can debate the building of a wall on our country’s southern border all they want, but to force the governmental closure/fail to keep the government open impacts severely many of our most vulnerable population sectors. Those with the most to lose are paying the most for the government shutdown, not the decision- or indecision-makers.

Locking arms in search of a solution needs to replace finger pointing, scoring political points, and digging in heels. Perhaps if our political leaders in the Oval Office and on both sides of the aisle in Congress were somehow mandated to give sacrificially of their own incomes and assets to meet the needs of those affected by the shutdown, they would find a solution quickly. As it stands now, until they can govern together and move the country forward past this partial shutdown, they won’t be the ones paying most dearly. Many of the most vulnerable will.

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