Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) greets Transportation Security Administration workers in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on January 11, 2019. "They’re keeping the @ABQSunport safe without pay. #EndTheShutdown," a post on Twitter read. Photo: Rep. Deb Haaland

Mark Trahant: Indian Country feels the hardships of the shutdown

Waiting for a thaw in Washington
More than half of those polled blame President Donald J. Trump for the government shutdown.
By Mark Trahant
Indian Country Today

When will the longest government shutdown in history end?

Now, please, sort of, said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican, who’s a close ally of President Donald J. Trump. He told Fox News over the weekend that the president should open the government for “a short period of time, like three weeks” and negotiate again with Congress.

“If we can't at the end of three weeks, all bets are off, see if he can do it by himself through the emergency powers,” he said. "That's my recommendation.”

The problem is frozen because the president, the Republicans in the House and the Senate, and the Democratic-majority in the House of Representatives do not have enough power to say “yes.” Only "no, not that."

So the White House insists on a border wall and the Democrats say fund government and then let’s talk about the wall. That’s followed by a dismissal of a coast-to-coast border wall that would cost far more than the $5 billion-plus requested by the president.

At this point there are not that many options. Graham’s recommendation for the president to tap into emergency powers would be a short-term solution, one that would only last until September 30. The president would still have to go back to Congress and ask for more money. A lot more money.

At least, supporters hope, the White House would be able to answer basic questions about where the money will be spent. (The money that the House designated for border security would mostly replace existing border fences, even using those steel slats that the president now says he favors.)

A couple of polls published over the weekend show that most Americans are blaming President Trump and Republicans for the government shutdown. CNN reports that it found that more than half of all those surveyed -- 55 percent -- blame the president for the shutdown. The poll found 32 percent blamed Democrats and 9 percent said both were responsible.

The Washington Post and ABC News said polls showed 53 percent blamed the president and 29 percent Democrats. The polls also found that most Americans discounted a “crisis” at the border and called it a problem.

But the poll also shows why Democrats and Republicans are so divided. Among Republicans there is deep support for the president’s demand for a border wall.

Today I met with federal employees in #KS03 impacted by this #shutdown. Here’s what I learned.

Posted by Representative Sharice Davids on Sunday, January 13, 2019
Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas) on Facebook: Federal employees and #shutdown

Meanwhile several Republican senators have introduced legislation that would enable an automatic Continuing Resolution as a safety valve to continue government when funding authorization expires. U.S. Senators Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa, Steve Daines, R-Montana, Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, Jim Risch, R-Idaho, Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the “End Government Shutdowns Act” would permanently prevent the federal government from shutting down, ensuring that essential government services aren’t disrupted and protecting taxpayers who must bear the resulting cost.

“It’s disappointing that both sides didn’t resolve this matter weeks ago. Shutdowns inevitably costs taxpayers more money once the government reopens. I hope that both parties come together and reach an agreement that brings a resolution to this issue as quickly as possible,” Portman said. “Moving forward, we should end government shutdowns for good. This bipartisan legislation will accomplish that goal, providing lawmakers with more time to reach a responsible resolution to budget negotiations, giving federal workers and their families more stability, and ensuring we avoid disruptions that ultimately hurt our economy, taxpayers and working families.”

“The ripple effect of a government shutdown has consequences for all Alaskans-- most directly on the thousands of federal employees and tens of thousands more that rely on our federal agencies,” said Senator Murkowski. “This legislation permanently ends government shutdowns with a commonsense solution to avoid a funding lapse, ensuring the jobs and livelihoods of federal workers and contractors are not held hostage during political disputes. For the sake of our federal employees, their families, and our nation, I’m proud to support the End Government Shutdowns Act.”

The Senate could end the shutdown by taking up several funding bills already passed by the House of Representatives. Those bills would likely be vetoed by the president, but Congress could vote to override the veto with a two-thirds majority.

Across the country: Tribes, federal employees, contractors, and nonprofits are reporting about the significant hardships. On the Blackfeet Nation there was food distribution for employees who are not being paid.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe said the situation could grow far worse if there is not a resolution soon. Rosebud Chairman Rodney Bordeaux told the Argus Leader that the tribe is worried it will run out of reserve funds.

"The tribes are going to have to be looking at possibly setting up soup kitchens or some kind of an effort to make sure our people are fed," Bordeaux told the Argus Leader.

In Albuquerque, an federal employee told Indian Country Today “nearly everyone is furloughed at BIA's ABQ office” including Human Resources, Environmental Safety, Facilities, Construction, Land titles and Records, and Accounting. “One thing people who are furloughed are doing is applying for unemployment and / or local credit unions are giving 90 days of 0 percent interest loans,” the worker reported. “If this isn’t resolved, next week I’ll be going to my credit union to take a loan to cover my bills (student loans, mortgage, groceries, car payment, insurance, gas, etc.). Once I get my paycheck, I’ll pay my credit union back."

Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kansas, Ho Chunk, told her constituents on Facebook that she met with federal employees Sunday in her district office. “I spoke with one woman who is a, she's a grandmother who's raising her grandchild on her own and she doesn't know if she's going to be able to continue to work for the federal government.”

“The United States Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate. We have the power to do something about this,” Davids said. “I know I voted multiple times to get funding back into the agencies and the departments that are not currently funded. And I'm going to keep doing that, but I'm also going to have to keep reaching out to the people who are impacted and the other people who have the power to do something about this. The United States Senate has the power to do something about this. The president of the United States has the power to do something about this. I'm asking you in the Senate, I'm asking you, Mr. President, please do something about this because this cannot continue. This is a national crisis.”

Rep. Debra Haaland, D-New Mexico, Laguna Pueblo, met with federal employees at Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque. “I know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck,” Haaland said in The Santa Fe New Mexican. “Sixty percent of Americans have only $500 in the bank that they can use as a slush fund — which you know would never even pay one month of rent. So, it’s affecting us so drastically.”

The New Mexican said the Pueblo of San Felipe has had to freeze funds for programs. “Tribal administrator Pinu’u Stout said some homes on pueblo lands can’t connect to the electric grid because service-line agreements have to go through shuttered federal agencies,” The New Mexican said.

Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Oklahoma, Cherokee Nation, said he continues to stand with President Trump.

“We cannot ignore the facts any longer. There is a humanitarian and national security crisis at our country’s southern border,” he said in a news release. “But with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi leading the charge, Democrats have proven that they have no interest in ending the shutdown or securing our southern border. Republicans have put forward a number of good-faith, commonsense efforts to negotiate. It’s time the Democrats put aside their partisan antics and come to the table to protect the integrity of our country and its citizens. Just as our president said: ‘They don’t build walls because they hate the people on the outside but because they love the people on the inside.’"

"Every American inside our borders is worth protecting and I will stand with the president in his continued efforts to build the wall and secure our borders,” Mullin said.

Mark Trahant is the editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter @TrahantReports.

Join the Conversation
Trending in News
More Headlines