The Constipated Eagle

[ Posted Monday, January 7th, 2019 – 17:59 UTC ]

There's a saying among government workers that requires a wee bit of bowdlerization for the first paragraph of a family column: "The eagle poops on Fridays." In other words, government paychecks appear at the end of the week. This week, the eagle is metaphorically constipated, and no such "poop" will be forthcoming to hundreds of thousands of government workers. For many of them, this will be the first missed paycheck, while others have already gone a pay period without being paid. The government shutdown is about to get a lot less theoretical and a lot more worrisome for millions, when you take into account their families and the local businesses they support.

This might only be the first such missed paycheck, as neither side in the shutdown showdown shows any signs of giving in any time soon. Up until now, the shutdown has been rather gradual, as these things go, mostly because our political system has now essentially normalized what used to be a drastic and rare occurrence. The first time the government shut down, things ground to a halt and the disruption was massive. By the third or fourth time it happened, however, the bureaucrats did what they do best -- write up a protocol for how to handle such situations, to minimize the disruption both for workers and for the general public. This shutdown is only a partial one to begin with, further lessening its immediate impacts, and by now the various departments have all found ways to gradually ease into shutdown status. So the first few weeks were nowhere near as bad as they have been in the past.

But all that's changing fast. Almost all the stopgap measures to paper over the shutdown period have been exhausted now, and there's a looming pay deadline that cannot be papered over at all. If the shutdown doesn't end soon, this will mean hundreds of thousands of people who won't be able to pay their rent, mortgage, or grocery bills. Sure, they'll probably be reimbursed eventually, but that doesn't carry much weight with the bank when the mortgage is due. What won't be reimbursed are late fees, penalties, and the hit to people's credit ratings. To say nothing of the thousands of government contract workers who won't be reimbursed at all. And this is just the first such pay period that will be missed. That eagle may still not have a functioning gastrointestinal tract when the next paycheck is due, in other words.

The media is finally beginning to shine some light on the hardship all of this is causing. The shutdown began right before Christmas, so few have so far been paying much attention to it. But now that too is changing, and we can expect to hear more personal stories of hardship on the airwaves. Especially since Donald Trump is rather ludicrously stating that all the federal workers who will be missing pay are solidly behind his tactics. Look for quite a few people to contradict that in the next few days, in other words.

The Democrats seem to be holding all the cards in this political fight, at least so far. But if no agreement is reached this week, then another political event will begin to influence the players in Washington, because late January (or sometimes early February) is State Of The Union season. Democrats will be even less inclined to give Trump any sort of political victory right before his big speech, to state the obvious. If the shutdown continues right up to Trump's speech, look for it to be the biggest topic he addresses.

When you factor in the deadline of the State Of The Union speech, it's tough to see when this all ends. How it will end is pretty obvious: either one side or the other will cave, and both sides will try to spin things as a big victory, whether true or not. The only other way out of this mess would be for Congress to pass budget bills over a presidential veto -- which would essentially take Trump out of the process altogether. But so far, the political pressure hasn't gotten severe enough for this to happen. Mitch McConnell is so far holding firm to his promise not to bring any bills up for a Senate floor vote that the president doesn't support. Democrats are now planning on making the attempt to halt all other business from happening in the Senate until the budget bills the House already passed are voted on. The only thing that will change McConnell's mind will be nervous Senate Republicans who are getting an earful from all the federal workers in their home states. Again, so far this hasn't happened in a big way, since only three GOP Senators have spoken out against the shutdown so far (all three of whom are up for re-election in 2020, coincidentally, two of them in rather blue states and one of them in a purple state). But the longer this goes on, the harder it will be for the other Republicans to continue refusing to do anything.

The White House today made a move to lessen the shutdown's impact, although the legality of such a move has already been called into question. It was announced that the I.R.S. would indeed begin processing tax returns and sending out tax refunds once this year's filing season begins in February. However, there is a federal law which expressly forbids this from happening, so we'll have to see how this all shakes out. The employees processing the returns will all be working without pay, if the government is still shut down. Just what everyone needed: disgruntled low-pay I.R.S. employees handling and processing all of our tax returns. But the alternative would have been much worse politically for Trump, because all of a sudden it wouldn't just be government employees directly financially affected, but instead anyone who filed their taxes early in the hopes of a quick return. The eagle's constipation would be a lot more broadly felt, to continue the metaphor a bit.

It already seems certain that this shutdown will wind up being the longest we've ever experienced. The longer it goes on, the more unpopular it will likely become, if the past is any guide. So far, the Democrats have public opinion squarely on their side, because Trump's wall is only really popular among his base. Shutting the government down to get that wall is even less popular. And that's the number which will likely change for the worse (for Trump) as time goes on.

Trump apparently has started to realize how badly this all looks for him, as he's begun a real media blitz. He started last week, by holding two much-hyped meetings with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Then Mike Pence was reduced to meeting with congressional staffers over the weekend, which didn't quite have the intended impact. Now, Trump has announced that he'll be flying to the border on Thursday and he'll be giving a prime-time address to the nation tomorrow night on the subject. So he's aware that his press relations needs a bit of work, obviously.

At this point, it's really tough to even attempt predicting when the eagle will become "regular" again. Trump has quite obviously chosen this hill to die on. If he caves now, it's going to be pretty obvious to everyone. Trump still apparently believes -- against all proof to the contrary -- that immigration is the number one issue that will propel him to re-election. This entire shutdown could even be seen as the launch of the "Trump 2020" campaign, in a way. Trump learned nothing from the blue wave of the midterms, when he hijacked the GOP's campaign strategy and made it all about fearing the scary immigrant. This didn't go over well in suburbia, and Republicans lost 40 House seats as a direct result. Astonishingly, Trump is now doubling down on this failed strategy.

When will it all end? Your guess is as good as mine, at this point. Because Trump sees this as a big political winner for him, and because he would lose a lot of his base if he caves, he really feels no direct political pressure yet to resolve his self-inflicted "crisis." It's going to take other Republicans to convince him, or a whole bunch of other Republicans to just go ahead and overturn a presidential veto and get the government running again. Personally, I don't see that happening for at least another week, and quite possibly beyond the State Of The Union address. Which would mean, realistically, early February would be the earliest things could return to normal. But again, that's just one guess, and it'll likely be proven wrong in the end. Because with Trump at one side of the negotiating table, nobody really has any clue what is going to happen next.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


6 Comments on “The Constipated Eagle”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    the eagle should try prune pie.

  2. [2] 
    ericksor wrote:

    Once again, it comes down to what is perceived as truth. Trump says there's a crisis at the border, terrorists and violent criminals are streaming into our country. The evidence doesn't support this: the truth doesn't support the lies he is feeding his base. His primetime address tonight will be filled with more lies and deception in an attempt to bring a wave of public pressure on the dems. But polls show most of the public doesn't see an invasion on our southern border. GOP senators are going to have to face the fact (yes, the fact) that their party's leader does not represent the country, that continuing this path will lead to political suicide as more and more people suffer in the government shutdown. But will they suddenly find their integrity and resolve this? I'm not holding my breath.

  3. [3] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    It's interesting. If Trump manages to eke out a few sentences that have relevance to truth, I'll be flabbergasted. I'd think, in fact, that a fact-check of the speech would be all that's needed to refute it.

    But leave Trump to slide towards a deal, probably a DACA Deal, in which Dreamers get everything, and Trump gets his $5 Bill. I see it coming.

  4. [4] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Program Note:

    Today's column will be a bit late, because I'll be watching Trump's 6:00 PM (PST) speech and the Dem response and then writing a snap-reaction column. Just to warn everyone in advance, don't expect a column today until around 7:30 PM PST.


  5. [5] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    waiting with bated breath. biggest whopper of the night was the claim that democrats negotiated donald down from a concrete wall to a steel barrier.

  6. [6] 
    Kick wrote:


    Well said. :)

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