In Washington DC and wherever in the US federal employees proliferate, there is a lot of weeping and wailing over a wall.
This not Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall. It is President Donald Trump’s border wall.
It is the border wall between the US and Mexico that Trump boasted the Southern neighbor would pay for…uh, er, he means…Mexico will pay for it one way or the other…uh, er, he means, through the renegotiated trade deal that Trump forged with Mexico but, in the meantime, the American taxpayers must pay for ….uh, er, he means a barrier, not necessarily a concrete wall…
Whatever it is that Trump means — and he means something other than what he says from day to day, which makes it difficult to guess what he really means — if it spells W-A-L-L, the new Democratic majority on Capitol Hill, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has flatly said no way. WALA!
Trump wants $5 billion for his wall. The Democrats refuse to provide for it in the budget. Trump says he needs the wall for “border security.” The Democrats are willing to provide funds for border security but not for what they describe as a stupid wall. But Trump doesn’t want the Democrats’ version of border security. He insists on his wall.
In other words, Trump is facing a blank wall.
On the other hand, Trump has vowed that unless he gets his wall funded, he will continue to stonewall and not sign any legislation that will reopen the partially shut-down federal government. Which explains why there is a lot of weeping and wailing among federal employees who have either been furloughed or have been made to work without pay for the longest time now, since shutting down the government became the hostage-taking weapon of choice in Washington DC.
That leaves the Republicans with their backs against the wall, because the majority of Americans blame Trump and the GOP for the shutdown. They vividly remember that meeting at the oval office, between Trump and Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer where Trump boasted that he was proud to cause a government shutdown in the name of border security and that he would take full responsibility for it.
Of course, the King of Weaselers (in Tagalog, “Hari ng Palusot”) is now saying that “everyone” is to blame for the shutdown, particularly the Democrats.
During the presidential campaign, “a border wall that Mexico will pay for” was the centerpiece of the Trump platform. Two years into his presidency, Trump, who holds the world record for being a bare-faced liar among world leaders (making him The Lyin’ King) has been unable to deliver on his promise — not that his conscience bothers him, but that his voter base, egged on by conservative radio and TV hosts, are holding him to his promise.
For perspective, the US Congress has to pass spending bills and the President has to sign it in order for the federal government to operate. The states have their own budgets and are only affected by the shutdown of federal departments on whose operations they depend.
Congress has approved and Trump has signed five bills providing funding for defense, energy and water, labor, health and human services, the legislative branch and veterans affairs. Seven other bills need congressional action and presidential approval. These would fund the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Interior, State, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, as well as some other smaller agencies.
Thus, these departments have been shut down for lack of approved budgets. In the Philippines, this would not have happened. If Congress and Malacañang fail to pass a budget for the new fiscal year, the budget for the previous year is “reenacted” and used as the basis for spending. The downside is that new appropriations and budget increases cannot be activated — but, at least, the government is able to continue operations.
Not so in the US. Without an approved budget, funds cannot be appropriated. This has left over 800,000 federal employees either furloughed or going without paychecks.
Those in the Philippines who think that living in America is like living in a land of endless wealth should realize that we all survive, literally, from bill to bill — bills for the house mortgage or apartment rent, bills for the car installments or lease, bills for school, grocery bills, light and water bills, health insurance bills.
Like the boxer who gets KO’d we cannot be saved by the bills.
After the recent missed paychecks, affected federal workers will fall behind on their payments — and, believe me, landlords (like the Trump businesses) are heartless. You fail to pay, you get thrown out onto the street and may have to live in your car.
They could add to America’s surplus of homeless families who live in the cold in such cities as San Francisco. The sight of these poor people is reminiscent of those in Manila who live under bridges, trucks and kariton. With no other options, they pay no attention to signs like, “Bawal umihi dito.”
According to my old lawyer friend, Nestor Valenzuela, “What they’re doing is not against the law. It’s against the wall.”
Trump insists that he will refuse to sign a spending bill that does not provide for his wall. According to him, he will hold his ground even if takes months. He wants the Democrats to negotiate. The Democrats insist that they will only negotiate if the shutdown is lifted first, otherwise, Trump will use the same blackmail tactic over and over again.
The majority of Americans are blaming Trump and the Republicans for this stalemate. This situations has the leaders of the GOP either climbing up a blank wall or banging their heads on it.
This reminds me of a mantra that I drilled into my assistants when I was CEO of an ad agency in Manila: “If you face a blank wall, go around it, go over it, or dig a hole under it. If none of that works, break down the damn wall.”
Trump is about ready to do that, in effect. He and the White House have begun to drum up visions of a “crisis” at the US-Mexico border that can only be prevented by a wall. In fact, the only real crisis confronting the United States, according to pundits, is Donald Trump himself.
Some beleaguered federal employees have begun to stage demonstrations to force an end to the shutdown. We pray that they don’t resort to violence, as some desperate folks do.
To paraphrase my lawyer friend, if these desperate employees decide to march on the White House, it may not be against the law.
It will be against the wall.
Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.