The United States on Tuesday enters the second month of a partial government shutdown over a lack of congressional funding, with no quick end in sight to the historic crisis weighing on the nation’s economy and morale.
Since December 22, a quarter of the government has been paralyzed because of an impasse between opposition Democrats in Congress and the White House over funding for a wall to block illegal immigration at the border with Mexico.
President Donald Trump refuses to endorse a budget that does not contain $5.7 billion to build the barrier, the foundational promise of his 2016 election campaign.
Democrats oppose the wall, calling it “immoral,” costly and ineffective. They want the government reopened before any discussion of the matter.
On Saturday, the Republican president made a new proposal which he said aimed to break the logjam. It offered to extend temporary protection to about a million immigrants facing expulsion, in return for the $5.7 billion he wants.
Although it was rejected by Democrats — and even by some anti-immigrant voices — the offer could serve as a basis for new discussions.
– Visible impact –
The shutdown directly affects 0.5 percent of the labor force but has started to indirectly hit the morale of more than half of consumers, according to a survey by the University of Michigan.
Experts say it is also pressuring the world’s largest economy, against the backdrop of already slowing global growth.
In the most sensitive government agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, Transport and the State Department, the number of affected employees has been kept to a minimum.
Elsewhere, the impact is clear.
National Parks no longer have security guards, numerous museums are shut, and some airport security checkpoints have been closed.
About 800,000 federal workers, from FBI agents to scientists and some food inspectors, are furloughed or working without pay while trying to meet their routine financial obligations.
US Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl Schultz wrote in a Twitter post on Monday that “Our #USCG members sail across the world to protect U.S. national interests while their loved ones cope w/ financial challenges & no pay at home.”
– The longest ever –
An economist for the Internal Revenue Service in New York, Carol Lopilato, 59, has been effectively unemployed since December 23.
With the IRS since 1987, she was lived through other shutdowns and said: “I never thought it would go on this long — never.”
Lopilato told AFP that she is “lucky in a sense” because so far she has not faced financial difficulty.
But “the longer it lasts, the more anxiety there is.”
She and others will eventually get backpay but more than one million contractors for the government don’t even have that to hope for.
“I’m about to lose my Medicaid, my car insurance” and driver’s license, said Yvette Hicks, 40, a contractor with the Smithsonian museum complex.
The single mother of two added: “Right now, this shutdown is really destroying me and my family.”
Hotels and bars have stepped in to offer free rooms and complementary snacks. There have been fund collections, and food banks — which normally serve the most down-and-out — have opened up their services.
– ‘Unacceptable’ –
The longest shutdown in US history is also beginning to have a political price.
A majority of Americans hold the Republicans and the White House responsible, according to several polls.
The political cost would have been even greater if Trump had followed through on threats to declare a national emergency in order to build his wall. Faced with likely court challenges, he backed off.
With his offer on Saturday, Trump held out protection from deportation for two categories of immigrants: 700,000 so-called “Dreamers,” children of people who settled illegally in the United States, and who have become a favorite cause of the Democrats, as well as 300,000 other immigrants whose protected status is expiring.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, refused this “compilation of several previously rejected initiatives, each of which is unacceptable and in total, do not represent a good faith effort to restore certainty to people’s lives.”
Trump, at the same time, alienated the fringe of his electorate opposed to what they saw as tantamount to an amnesty for the undocumented migrants.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to submit Trump’s proposal for a vote this week. He will have to convince several Democrats of its merit in order to pass the text which, in any case, has little chance of being endorsed by the House.
For the Republicans, the Senate vote should at least allow a resumption of discussions, and the text can be amended.
But according to a senior House Democrat, James Clyburn, it is essential to first reopen the government because “these negotiations could take three or four weeks.”