Donald Trump loves superlatives, and it’s probably not a stretch to say that he takes some measure of pride in the fact that he is now (mostly) responsible for the longest government shutdown in modern U.S. history.
The US funding lapse passed a record 21 days at midnight, breaking the record set in 1995/96. There’s no end in sight.
On Friday, Trump appeared to waffle on whether he would ultimately make good on his threat to declare a national emergency. Here’s the clip:
He’s been essentially arguing with himself about whether the national emergency idea is a good one all week and very much contrary to what he said Friday about it being “the easy way out”, there wouldn’t be anything “easy” about it.
That’s because (wouldn’t you know it), you can’t just scribble “eemergenzy” on some presidential letterhead and then proceed to plunder funds set aside for disaster relief (e.g., Puerto Rico) in the service of doing something over-the-top crazy like building a 2,000-mile-long steel wall on the southern border.
This is yet another example of a situation where what Trump wants to do is so laughable that finding the right words to lampoon it or otherwise make it more amusing than it already is ends up being an exercise in futility – especially when you consider the context. Trump has of course verbally (and very publicly) sparred with California and Puerto Rico over the extent to which (and I still can’t believe I have to say this) they are responsible for creating fires and hurricanes and thus maybe don’t deserve federal assistance.
Well, as you might have heard, Trump is considering stealing from more than a dozen Corps of Engineers projects that have already been funded by Congress and diverting that money to the wall. That’s according to Rep. John Garamendi who said Friday he was aware of fledgling plans to divert money from some $2.5 billion in California projects and another $2.5 billion worth of projects in Puerto Rico. Here’s the LA Times:
Several of the projects on the list, Garamendi said, have been in the works for years if not decades, and some are in their final stages. They include raising the height of Folsom Dam on the American River in Northern California, protecting Lake Isabella in Kern County from leaking as a result of earthquakes, enlarging the Tule River and Lake Success in the Central Valley and building shoreline protections in south San Francisco. “Each of these flood-control projects are specifically designed to save the lives of millions of Americans,” Garamendi said. “If it’s not done this year, or next year, will it make a difference? Maybe not, or maybe it will make all the difference.”
Right. And in the event Trump were to loot these funds to pay for a border wall and a million people end up drowning in some kind of biblical flood that could have been prevented, I guess you can expect Trump to claim that James Comey is responsible because after all, everyone knows Comey invented rivers.
Getting back to whether Trump’s national emergency idea is viable, you should note that contrary to what the President (and Lindsey Graham) would have you believe, there has to be a verifiable emergency for that kind of power grab to hold up in court. While the definition of “emergency” is open to interpretation and while Trump does in fact have a lot of leeway in terms of deciding what counts as an “emergency”, the White House would presumably have to provide evidence that reasonable people would accept as some semblance of convincing.
Of course there is no such evidence, something we’ve been over in this pages more times than we can count. As Bloomberg puts it on Saturday, “the Trump administration’s use of dubious statistics, including the misleading claim that nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists were caught trying to enter the U.S. illegally — the vast majority were prevented from traveling to the U.S. by air or legal ports of entry — might undermine the president’s position that there is an emergency.”
Not “might” – “will.” A lack of evidence “will” undermine the legitimacy of an emergency declaration because when you say “lack of evidence” what you’re really saying is this: “The President’s claim of an emergency at the border is undermined by the lack of an emergency at the border.”
Meanwhile, Kevin Hassett (who knows how funny it is that a “heck of a lot of US companies” are going to suffer from the trade war) reckons federal workers who might be considering exciting new careers at Burger King or maybe at Da’ Bing!, just aren’t thinking about this the right way. Specifically, Hassett says this is more “vacation” than furlough. Watch this (from Thursday):
Got that? Here is it is again:
Right now, about 25 percent of government workers are furloughed. Which means that they are not allowed to go to work. But then when the shutdown ends, they go back to work, and they get their back pay. A huge share of government workers were going to take vacation days, say between Christmas and New Year’s. And then we have a shutdown, and so they can’t go to work. So then they have the vacation, but they don’t have to use their vacation days. And then they come back, and they get their back pay. Then in some sense, they’re better off.
That’s obviously absurd and even if you wanted to spin it that way, Kevin isn’t exactly a guy whose face screams “credible” and/or “likable”. When it comes to ripping that soundbite to pieces I’m not sure I can do a better job than Bess, so, take it away homegirl (from Friday’s edition of the Levin Report):
Throughout the near-three week shutdown—approaching its 22nd day tomorrow!—the federal government has offered its 800,000-odd employees a variety of tips for managing the period in which they’ve either been furloughed or forced to work without pay. Among the pearls of wisdom: hold a garage sale, get a second job, “turn your hobby into income,” offer to “trade services” for rent, and declare bankruptcy. But who wants to work, anyway? On Thursday night, White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett proffered a somewhat different perspective on real-life nightmares such as being evicted, or forgoing medicine to afford food: free vacation days!
While it’s true that people will ultimately receive backpay once they return to work, and a shutdown, of, say, two or three days could be regarded as free time off, this advice, viewed in the context of reality, isn’t particularly helpful when 1) many workers live paycheck-to-paycheck and 2) per the Wall Street Journal, White House aides are preparing for a scenario in which the shutdown is still in place several weeks from now, and possibly into February. At which point, the government will presumably have put the finishing touches on a tip-sheet that includes the lines like “sex work is a growing and increasingly respectable way to earn money” and “you could easily get a thousand bucks for a kidney.”
As far as how this is impacting the economy, we brought you some commentary on that Friday from BofAML and S&P in “Shutdown Will Cost US Economy More Than Trump’s Wall Within 2 Weeks” and while you can delve into this as deeply as you like, Wells Fargo is out with a handy five-point list as part of their equity team’s efforts to determine which retailers might be impacted if this drags on much longer.
“With Friday marking the first day that 800k federal employees will not be paid, we’re taking a closer look at the potential impact across our U.S. retail coverage universe”, the bank writes, adding that “this represents the 21st shutdown in U.S. federal government history (5th since 1990), and based on prior shutdowns, we believe the economic impact could be at least $2B per week.” Here is the bank’s simple list of how this proliferates across the economy, and we’ll present it without further editorializing.
- 800k federal workers not being paid;
- potential delay in tax refunds (although White House hopes to limit disruption), SNAP benefits (which are funded through February), and other forms of aid;
- potential delay of mortgage applications, small business loans, home sales, and corporate transactions;
- delayed retail inventory receipts should customs backlog congest ports; and
- waning consumer confidence from economic uncertainty.