n January 11, 2019, hundreds of US federal government employees who were sent on compulsory leave, and out-of-work US government contractors both of whom were victims of the US Government partial shutdown, protested outside the White House. Greeting each other as ‘hello fellow pawns’, the protesters were calling for an end to the shutdown which had effectively put them out of employment in the aftermath of President Trump’s refusal to sign a short-term spending bill -- which did not provide funding for his (the president’s) pet project -- to build a border wall between the US and Mexico.
The US President has refused to sign government expenditure Bill unless the Congress (legislature) approves US$ 5 billion to build a border wall between Mexico and the US. The Congress meanwhile has called that expenditure, as being too costly and unnecessary.
In the US, a partial shutdown occurs when spending Bills are not passed by Congress and signed into law by the President. So on December 22, 2018, the US government went into a partial shutdown. The Republican Party-controlled Senate passed a short-term spending Bill without the wall money (on Wednesday), but, Trump said on Thursday that he would not sign it, adding he was “happy to shutdown government”.
Today over 800,000 federal government employees have suddenly found themselves out of job...The shutdown is partial because 75% of government funding has already been approved for the budget year that started in October. That includes money for the military, which would be unaffected by a shutdown. It’s the other 25% of government spending that’s at issue, but a shutdown could cut off spending for nine of the 15 cabinet-level federal departments.
We, Sri Lankans who have just come through a constitutional crisis which lasted nearly three months - until the island nation’s Supreme Court stepped in to bring the protagonists down to earth and restore a degree of sanity -- easily identify and sympathize with the protesting US federal government employees.
We also see many similarities between the US and Sri Lankan situations. In Lanka it was the the president’s personal antipathy towards his Prime Minister that drove him to take actions ultra vires of the Constitution of the country.
Likewise in the US, the incumbent President Trump is holding federal employees hostage to his political games, demanding legislators provide him state funds to indulge in his personal projects.
Our President maintained that he would never re-appoint his Prime Minister. He even went to the extent of saying he would not even remain as President for an hour if Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was re-appointed. Its over two weeks since the Premier was re-appointed, but our President still remains.
Similarly, the US President said he would declare a national emergency so he could draw funds for his pet project... However by Friday -- the 21st day of the shutdown -- Trump did an about turn, “What we’re not looking to do right now is national emergency,” he declared. The apparent reversal came, as the ‘Guardian’ reported, hundreds of thousands of workers went without pay and the Miami airport closed a terminal due to lack of TSA staff who have been hit
by the shutdown.
The House passed a Bill which would guarantee workers back-pay, which Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said Trump would sign, but the President remains adamant. He still has little room to negotiate. Congress and the US President could agree on a spending deal to give themselves time to re-negotiate, the chances, however, are small as the Democrat-led Congress continues to insist it will not fund the wall.
To make matters worse, Trump has made it worse for himself as he has claimed the responsibility for the shutdown was his alone... “I’ll tell you what: I am proud to shut down the government for border security,” Trump boasted last week. “I will be the one to shut it down. I am not going to blame you (Democrats) for it.”
The lesson executive and the legislative need to understand is that they together, form the two halves of government. One half cannot act in opposition to the other. The executive and the legislature need to compromise, not destabilize the other.
A failure to synchronize with the other can only lead to instability and possibly anarchy.