What if the federal government held a shutdown and no one cared? Actually, to put a finer point on it, what if just about the only people who cared lived in Virginia, Maryland, or the District of Columbia?
For those of us who live in one of the other 48 states, life goes on — pretty much exactly as it did before the shutdown began more than two weeks ago.
After all, the shutdown affects only about 25 percent of the portion of the federal government funded by Congress. That’s because some of the major agencies — like the Defense Department — have already been funded for several months thanks to earlier spending bills passed by Congress. Vital programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are also not affected.
But, if you cash government checks, and anxiously await the day you can retire and draw a hefty pension, the shutdown may be something to worry about.
Granted, you did choose this line of work. No one forced you to take a cushy public sector job that is often shielded from the pressures that befall your family and friends in the private sector — such as the pressure to produce results.
And, if we’re being honest, you probably didn’t worry too much when the recession hit and the housing bubble burst and factories closed, and people who didn’t have pensions had to liquidate their 401ks.
For now, both sides are dug in, each of them gambling that the opposition will catch most of the flak from the shutdown.
Senate Minority Chuck Schumer emerged from a meeting at the White House Thursday and couldn’t wait to reveal that President Trump told him that he was prepared to keep the government shuttered for “months, even years.”
Trump later confirmed that he said that. He promised to take ownership of the shutdown and take the heat it might generate, and after exhausting every other possibility (like blaming Democrats), he has finally done so.
That’s just as well. Polls show that the majority of the American people see this as Trump’s shutdown. A Reuters/Ipsos survey found 47 percent blamed the Republican president compared to 33 percent who blamed Congressional Democrats. Another 7 percent said Republican lawmakers are at fault.
Still, the same poll found that 84 percent of Republicans support Trump’s hardline position of keeping the government closed until House Democrats approve a spending bill that allows at least $5 billion for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. After Democrats produced a bill that fell short of that demand, the president threatened to use emergency measures to divert Pentagon funds to build what he has promised will be a “big beautiful wall.”
Of course, the consensus opinion is that “big” and “beautiful” could run about $20-$25 billion. So, the $5 billion now being sought by the White House would probably only gets us “puny” and “plain.”
But the fight over the wall, and the shutdown it helped cause, isn’t about money. It’s about politics. Surprise.
Ezra Klein got it right. The founder of Vox.com, and former columnist for the Washington Post, surmised a few weeks ago that Trump doesn’t really want a wall — as much he wants to keep talking about one.
And why not? The president knows the subject of a border wall puts a hypnotic spell on his conservative audiences whenever he brings it up, especially if he adds the part about how Mexico is supposedly going to “pay” for the structure. Trump claims this is already happening through a new trade deal.
If you believe that whopper, I’d like to sell you the Alamo.
Trump also knows that bringing up the wall, and forcing Democrats to say out loud how they won’t fund it, helps advance the GOP narrative that Democrats are nowadays just as weak on border security as they were once thought to be on national security. So, for him, it’s a win-win.
For the rest of us, however, this whole Mexican border wall standoff is an absurd diversion from the more pressing issues enveloping the U.S.-Mexico border. We should be talking about family separation and why it is that children keep dying in the custody of the Border Patrol.
It’s also surreal given that — as has been noted by many in the media — Democrats love the idea of constructing walls and fences on the border, and they usually can’t wait to break ground.
In fact, this is actually Trump Shutdown 2.0. The first one took place in January 2017, and lasted a weekend. Back then, Schumer publicly promised to fully fund Trump’s wall — until immigration activists got him to back down.
So, if both camps of elected officials love border walls, what’s there left to fight about? Nothing. Unfortunately, in Washington, it’s the fights over nothing that sometimes last the longest.
Ruben Navarrette is a contributing editor to Angelus and a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He is a radio host, a frequent guest analyst on cable news, and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Among his books are “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.”
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