House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) walks to the House floor on Thursday for procedural votes on a budget bill to prevent another government shutdown. President Trump said he would sign the bill and declare a national emergency. (JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
Columnist

Was it worth it?

Was President Trump’s 35-day shutdown and the menace of another three weeks of dispute worth more than a month without pay for 800,000 federal employees?

Was it worth it to force about half of them to work in a state of involuntary servitude?

Was it worth it for the contractors and other business people who lost income with no assurance of back pay?

Was it worth it for the services that taxpayers lost?

Was it worth it for the national and international shame, disgust and confusion that smeared Uncle Sam’s reputation?

Was it worth it for a southern border wall most people don’t want and Trump repeatedly promised Mexico would fund?

The answer for all responsible people is a resounding no.

That doesn’t include the unfit occupant of the White House.

Trump reluctantly accepted the broad, bipartisan budget bill that Congress overwhelmingly approved last night, preventing another shutdown. It includes much less border barrier appropriations than he wanted. He pledged he would declare a national emergency to find wall money. The emergency is based on the bogus notion that immigration issues at the Mexican border warrant this drastic step. It’s a route even his supporters know is lined with political and legal potholes. Lawsuits could be a comic’.

“It is a gross abuse of power — and likely illegal — for President Trump to go around Congress to fund his border wall,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). “Inventing an unnecessary emergency declaration to pay for his wall by redirecting funds already allocated to our military or domestic infrastructure sets a dangerous precedent. I am confident this lawless act will be struck down by the courts.”

Having just returned from the southern border where he met with migrants, advocates and law enforcement personnel, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), the House majority leader, said “it was made clear that there is not a crisis at the border. What was made clear was the need for smart border security, such as enhanced technology, port infrastructure, additional trained personnel, and humanitarian assistance.”

Under the budget deal, Trump won’t be able to shut down the government again, at least until the end of September, when this fiscal year is done. What a low bar for a nation that thinks itself great.

Having declared himself proud to lead the country into a partial shutdown just before Christmas, Trump earlier this week spoke of his pride in the closure because “people learned during that shutdown all about the problems coming in from the southern border.”

He threatened another shutdown this weekend if Congress didn’t approve a funding package with wall money. Given what he got on his signature issue, the bipartisan legislation demonstrates the shutdown really wasn’t worth it to Trump either.

The $1.375 billion approved for the wall, in a spending package worth more than $300 billion, is less than a quarter of the $5.7 billion Trump wanted. Having failed to get Mexico to pay, he has largely failed in Congress. He also failed to convince Congress to freeze federal pay this year and impose $143.5 billion in federal retirement cuts over 10 years. The bill includes a 1.9 percent pay raise retroactive to Jan. 6 for federal employees and doesn’t touch their retirement.

Federal employees are getting back pay, though agencies have been slow in fully paying some staffers all they are owed. Unfairly, Trump indicated he would refuse a provision mandating back pay for low-wage workers such as janitors, cafeteria workers and security officers who work for contractor companies in federal buildings, said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

“President Trump is twisting the knife in the back of workers who are still recovering from the shutdown,” said Jaime Contreras, a vice president of 32BJ Service Employees International Union, which represents the contractor employees. “Once again, working people will pay the price for President Trump's hateful agenda.”

Democrats also paid a price, though a much lower one than Trump’s.

Democrats can insist, as did Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), “it’s not the wall” and the funding is for “physical barriers with language specifying that new fencing is limited to currently deployed designs.” Wall, barrier, fencing — it’s semantics, a distinction with no real difference. Some are walls by any other name.

Wall or no wall, that wasn’t the question during a silent demonstration in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building. For 35 minutes on Wednesday afternoon, members of the American Federation of Government Employees and others held their fists high to mark the number of days in the longest shutdown that ended three weeks ago. In solemn fashion, they declared not to tolerate such an assault on the government and its workforce.

Arms were raised. At the sound of triangle chimes and a small bell rung on each minute, individuals lowered one arm and then raised the other. Each minute was displayed on a paper plate, so the demonstrators would know how much they had to endure.

Like federal workers, Van Hollen said, “American families want bipartisan solutions to the issues our nation faces.”

They finally got a bipartisan solution, but what a price to pay.

Read more:

Employees prepare for shutdown if tentative budget deal falters

Shutdown leads to continuing psychological issues for federal employees

Lasting damage remains from Trump’s shutdown folly

Unpaid federal employees recalled so they can pay federal contractors

IRS workers beckoned to involuntary servitude

Feds’ twilight zone — working without pay