My daughter spent much of her formative years growing up near Washington, D.C., and came to love the city’s museums and monuments.
From the time she was barely old enough to walk, she would gasp and run from one dinosaur skeleton to the next at the Natural History Museum or get annoyed with me when we saw Amelia Earhart’s plane at the Air and Space Museum because I couldn’t tell her what happened to the vanished pilot.
So I was looking forward to her being able to revisit her old haunts when she heads to Washington this week. I never really imagined that this government shutdown would drag on the way it has for one simple reason: It’s so damn stupid.
Once again, I underestimated government stupidity.
Of course the shutdown has done a lot more than mess up my daughter’s trip. Some 800,000 government workers are affected, either told to stay home or forced to work without pay.
Utah is one of the hardest-hit states in the country. It has 10,400 federal workers, meaning it has the 11th-highest number of federal workers per capita. And many of them, including those who work for the Interior Department and the IRS, are affected.
Utah taxpayers are filling some of the gaps. The state has shelled out about $66,000 to keep the national parks open, with private foundations and local governments paying significantly more, said Vicki Varela, director of the state’s Office of Tourism.
While I get how that benefits tourism, it’s not necessarily good for the parks. What this creates is inadequate protection for these specular lands and inadequate public safety for those who visit. Utah’s parks, at least, have not had the mountains of filth reported elsewhere, and there have not been serious injuries, in contrast to three people who have been killed in other parks in the West.
“We’re not saying the visitor experience is the same as it would be if it was fully staffed, but it’s better than what is happening in many other national parks,” Varela said. “We’re basically patchworking to do what we can while the federal government is doing what we all expect the federal government to do.”
President Donald Trump says he’s not giving in and he’s willing to ride this shutdown for weeks if he needs to. State officials are bracing for that and the impact it could have on people who rely on programs that are funded federally, including things like subsidized school lunch and food stamps.
“We have to be eyes wide open going into this that the state is not going to be in a position to keep all these programs open indefinitely,” said Kristen Cox, budget director for Gov. Gary Herbert. “We can keep some programs open, some services going, so we’ll have to prioritize. … My biggest concern now is looking out six weeks to months, if this were to continue, do we have a plan in place?”
Elsewhere, the commandant of the Coast Guard tweeted Tuesday that guard members were not receiving their paychecks, to his knowledge, for the first time in history as a result of a shutdown. Tax time is looming with the Internal Revenue Service unable to advise taxpayers on the new tax law, and new directives calling on thousands to return to work, including in Ogden, but without pay. And other agencies, like the Food and Drug Administration, are feeling the strain.
It’s madness, frankly, and to what end?
Trump obviously thinks the shutdown gives him leverage to squeeze Democrats to fund his coveted border wall. But it wasn’t nearly such a priority for the two years Republicans ran the show.
Looking at his tweets going back to January 2017, he had mentioned the southern border a little more than once a week during the first 23 months of his presidency. Over the past six weeks, he has fired off 99 tweets about the border — more than 13 times as often as he had up to that point.
Too bad the shutdown doesn’t affect his Twitter account.
Perhaps the wall wasn’t the focus before because, up until a few months ago, when thousands of asylum seekers reached the border, apprehensions were at the lowest point in recent years, part of a downward trend going back to 2000.
Look, maybe you agree the border wall is a good idea. Fine. But the Department of Homeland Security still hasn’t spent the $1.7 billion it received for border security in 2017 and 2018. Even without any more money, DHS will be putting up barriers along the border throughout the rest of this year.
So, we can still have the debate about border security. Maybe the solution is a wall or technology or more officers or all of the above. But we can have the discussion in a reasonable way driven by facts and data.
For now, let’s end this nonsense. The House has already passed budget bills to open most of the government through September. There are other, shorter-term proposals on the table too.
What we need now is for the Senate — including Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney — to act. Stand up for yourself as a coequal branch of government whose job is to set the budget. Americans are tired of the games. It’s time to end the shutdown and get people back to work. Do your job and save the partisan bickering later.
Because I can’t believe that concepts like putting your country first and exercising a little common sense belong in a museum alongside those dinosaur bones my kid won’t get to visit.