Years ago, there were behavioral norms. Nastiness and unwarranted personal attacks used to be considered low class. For example, lawyers are professionals. We are not supposed to act in such a manner. Unfortunately, I have seen during my over 30 years of practice that the obnoxious conduct has increased in the law profession. The fact that someone was on law review, went to an Ivy League law school, or worked for a big firm does not mean they have higher standards. Sometimes I have seen the opposite. They are so arrogant and think they are smarter and more clever than I, a sole practitioner.
This same lowering of civility has affected our community. People will make obnoxious and nasty comments against a non-public figure in a Jewish newspaper and use their own name. To them it is a badge of courage. The editors publish such dribble because they are looking at the business angle because it increases readership and elicits more advertising. It has a corrosive effect because it discourages other people from speaking their mind because they do not want to be subject to such venom. I have been told on more than one occasion that they will not write to the paper because of this fear. A newspaper’s role is to help foster the free exchange of ideas and not allow conduct that will stifle it. The problem with spending time on this is that it takes time away from discussing important issues. I will now address one.
I am self-employed and used to having some weeks where no money comes in and having to wait to be paid. Therefore, my initial reaction that federal employees were not going to be paid until the shutdown was over was subdued. What is the big deal, since the shutdown will be brief – and if they miss any pay periods they ultimately will be paid?
Now that federal workers have missed a pay period, the pain inflicted has been shocking. There are so many people who are living paycheck to paycheck. They are having trouble even putting food on the table. This is happening while we are told that the economy is doing well. This is another example where government reports and statistics give a false rosy view of how the average worker is faring.
The pain has been especially placed on those who are considered to be essential. They have to be at work without receiving their pay in a timely manner. If they were not working, they could try to use their time to earn a few dollars to tide them over until they get paid. In contrast, those who are not deemed to be essential are off and can do whatever they want during the shutdown. In addition, unlike essential employees, the non-essential employees will be paid a full salary without having to do any work. This is illogical. By definition, being essential is more important than being non-essential. It does not make sense to treat essential employees worse than a non-essential employee. There should be some additional renumeration for essential employees such as time and a half. This promise should be made as soon as possible since it will be an incentive for the essential workers to come in to work. For example, there are some agencies such as the TSA where the number of workers calling in sick is increasing every day.
However, there are individuals or businesses who will never be made whole once the shutdown is over. This includes businesses that rely on federal workers for part of their income such as food establishments. The workers are not going to eat more once they return to work.
Also, independent contractors are hurt since they are not included in the retroactive payments. Other people who need government services are affected. In addition, the shutdown has been damaging to the national parks. The ecological damage cannot be undone.
This never should have happened. At the December 11 meeting with now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer, the president famously bragged that he would be proud to cause a shutdown over the wall.
On December 19, the Senate passed a funding bill that the president at first said he would favor to fund the government until February 2019 while border wall discussion would take place. Then he got scared when some in his base got upset. Then the Republican-controlled House passed a new bill that was different from the Senate since it required funding for the border wall.
This month, the House of Representatives, with a Democratic majority, approved funding for all unfunded agencies till the end of the fiscal year and the Department of Homeland Security until February 2019 without including funding for the border wall. The Republican-controlled Senate has not voted since the House passed the bill because the president indicated that he will veto the bill.
Trump has threatened to declare this to be a national emergency and get the funding from someplace else to build the wall. Assuming that it is legal, it would be a dangerous precedent since it would give the president additional powers over spending, which is Congress’ domain.
As my father used to say, what goes around comes around. If the president uses the excuse of a national emergency to get funding for the wall, then a Democratic president can make the same argument to obtain funding for some program that the Republicans in Congress have blocked the expenditure.
Since there is no leadership coming from President Trump, it is up to Republicans in Congress to stand up and do the right thing. Federal workers and others affected by the shutdown have suffered enough. It is time to fund the closed agencies. Then the leadership of both parties have to make a deal to solve this problem. A permanent deal can be made if both sides are practical and are not held hostage by their respective bases. For the Democrats it is the progressives and for the Republicans it is the Trump base.
Warren S. Hecht is a local attorney. He can be reached at email@example.com