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Needless shutdown disrupts our lives

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I was sitting in a doctor’s chair Monday in Rocky Mount, chatting with the doctor about the peculiarities of federal regulation on drug prices, when his assistant mock-wailed, “I just want to buy my house.”

It turned out that her family had received a bank loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, everything was all ready to go, but they couldn’t actually get the money because the USDA couldn’t release it because of the partial shutdown of the federal government, now into its second month.

Last week, I watched the Middlesex town board agree to submit an application for a USDA public works grant — when the grant administrator comes back to work from being furloughed.

I can hardly wait to take an upcoming flight to Nashville, Tennessee, since airport security lines are taking longer because an increasing number of TSA screeners — forced to work without pay — are calling in “sick,” most likely sick of the government shutdown.

Starting the weekend before Christmas, the shutdown has affected about 800,000 employees and their families, and about a quarter of the federal government, including the departments of agriculture and homeland security.

The shutdown was kind of academic for us average citizens when it first started, hardly noticed in the flurry of Christmas and New Year’s activities. The biggest effect initially seemed to be the mounting garbage and poop in the nation’s national parks, which said more about the poor behavior of Americans on public property than it did about the politicians — though poop did seem somewhat descriptive of the situation.

As the shutdown continues, however, more Americans are in danger of becoming collateral damage. The SNAP program, otherwise known as food stamps, is projected to run out by March. The IRS is warning it doesn’t have enough employees still working to ensure Americans will receive their tax refunds. And the poor sailors in the Coast Guard, still patrolling our coasts without pay, are sinking under a sea of unpaid bills.

And for what? Because Donald Trump, the man elected to run the government as chief executive, refuses to approve funding appropriations for the affected agencies until Congress forks over an additional $5.7 billion (that’s billion with a “b”) to build more than 200 miles of Trump’s promised wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. And the Democrats, rightfully, are refusing to submit to his blackmail.

This is totally Trump’s shutdown, aided and abetted by a spineless Republican Party which long ago sacrificed its integrity and interdependence on Trump’s altar of personality. The man said so himself. Before the shutdown began, he told Democratic leaders he would be “proud” to shut down the government and would “own” the shutdown.

And he does. Most Americans, and almost all border security experts, see Trump’s big wall as unnecessary and ineffective. There is no “crisis” on the southern border, though immigration and the flow of drugs into the U.S. are separate problems that need solutions. A wall will do little to nothing to solve them.

The real crisis on the border are the thousands of children in federal custody the Trump administration ripped from their parents, so many the administration lost track of their number and where they are. The administration has added $800 million to its list of demands for “humanitarian aid” for those same children misplaced through a cold-blooded policy of separating families and sheer incompetence.

The shutdown could end tomorrow if Trump would agree to sign the appropriation bills Congress has approved, including $1.3 billion for border security. He had a right to ask for a wall, but Congress also had the right not to fund it (remember, Trump promised Mexico was going to pay for it). And Trump is breaking his oath of office by forcing the shutdown of the government he is tasked with running.

The Democrats, for their part, won’t and can’t give in to Trump’s demands. One pragmatic reason is that wasting $5.7 billion on a useless wall to pacify Trump will deprive the already debt-ridden government of money for serious needs in this country, like infrastructure repairs and health care for the working poor.

One principled reason is that Democratic leaders know — and Republican leaders know but won’t acknowledge — that if they give in to Trump now, he will continue to shut down government whenever he doesn’t get his own way.

Trump cares nothing about the country’s well-being, just his own political future. This is his shutdown, a political show for the benefit of his supporters, no matter whom it hurts.

I just hope that the unfortunate doctor’s assistant will be able to buy her house while she still can and the town of Middlesex gets its grant.

Ken Ripley is a resident of Spring Hope and The Enterprise’s editor and publisher emeritus.

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