Just when a congressional spending agreement provided federal employees reason to breathe a sigh of relief, here comes another Trumpism to take their breath away.
This one was in the form of a Tuesday morning tweet saying President Trump thinks a shutdown of the government could be a good thing.
“Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!” he tweeted about Capitol Hill’s budget process.
That process led to a five-month, stopgap spending agreement this week that helped prevent a shutdown, which all responsible people oppose. With the agreement, feds feel “very relieved that this political standoff did not devolve into [a] shutdown that would trigger furloughs of federal employees across the country,” said Randy Erwin, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees.
The relief, however, quickly turned to bewilderment at a president so estranged from governing that he thinks shutting the government could be a good thing.
“There is nothing ‘good’ about a government shutdown that would furlough 800,000 federal employees indefinitely, including nearly 70,000 in Northern Virginia,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.). “The federal government does not turn on and off like a light switch. Critical medical and scientific research is put on hold; shipping container inspections at our ports are halted; Social Security and Medicare benefits are delayed and mortgages are missed. I can think of no worse example of leadership than to call and hope for such an unmitigated disaster.”
But rather than correcting Trump’s poor leadership, his Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney blamed Democrats and intensified the president’s comments.
Trump “is frustrated” because he negotiated in good faith with Democrats who then claimed victory after the spending negotiations to “make him look bad,” Mulvaney told reporters. “I don’t anticipate a shutdown in September. But . . . if the Democrats aren’t going to behave any better than they have in the last couple of days it may be inevitable,” he added. “If we get to September and it’s still business as usual, business as usual, business as usual and nothing changes and it takes a shutdown to change it, I have no problem with that.”
Fortunately, the heads on Capitol Hill are wiser than those in the White House.
Their bipartisan agreement allows Republicans and Democrats to claim victory, although a “short-term agreement that is seven months overdue . . . is not how government should operate,” said National Treasury Employees Union President Tony Reardon.
At least there were no massive budget cuts, which would cause service and personnel reductions as Trump has proposed for fiscal 2018. It begins in October. “All things considered, this omnibus [spending bill] is a pleasant surprise,” said Matt Biggs, legislative director of the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers.
In his view, the deal gives Democrats “a lot of leverage” to oppose cuts and hits on federal employee compensation, as Republicans previously have recommended.
The Trump administration, however, is already preparing to implement his budget-slashing plan, even though no one expects it to pass as proposed. Following Mulvaney’s instructions for agencies to “develop a long-term workforce reduction plan,” the Environmental Protection Agency said it would offer buyouts and early retirements. Bloomberg News reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to cut his department’s workforce by 9 percent, about 2,300 employees.
Nonetheless, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), the House Democratic leader, is confident “it ain’t going to happen,” referring to the administration’s planned workforce reductions. During a meeting with Washington Post reporters, she added, “I don’t think much of that stuff is going to survive.”
But the Trump threat for fiscal 2018 remains, meaning any relief for feds now is tempered by continuing anxiety about the future.
While the spending agreement being considered by Congress brings at least temporary stability to the government, its “tumultuous process” resulted in “brinksmanship that leads to basic government operations being held hostage,” Reardon complained. “Nonpartisan career civil servants — who live and work in big cities and small towns in every state in the country — simply want the resources and the support to do their jobs.”
Many need help doing those jobs, because even with the bipartisan agreement, some agencies remain “woefully underfunded and understaffed,” Erwin said.
“It is a shame that merely passing a spending bill that averts a shutdown is considered a success in this day and age,” he added. “This spending measure does not adequately address our national priorities. It is a very low bar, but at least we are not shutting the government down.”