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As of this writing, there was still a partial federal government shutdown affecting, by one count, about 800,000 workers, a little over one-third of the federal government’s workforce of about 2.2 million.

Regardless of how one feels about the oft-maligned “bloated federal workforce” or the banality of what some are reputed to do, basic human decency and compassion force us to side with the workers. The shutdown is considered partial because much of the government has already been funded for the current fiscal year. On top of that, the federal bureaucracy is so large it is difficult for the average citizen to know which department or office is affected.

We’ve heard the horror stories about overflowing toilets at national parks, but is it really safe to fly to them since Department of Homeland Security TSA baggage screeners are affected? While seniors are relieved their Social Security checks keep being deposited (Phew! I’m one of them), how many of us realized the Coast Guard, as part of the DHS, isn’t part of the pay pool of the regular armed forces and so isn’t being paid?

By the way, the Coast Guard is a far-flung force with ships and personnel not just patrolling our Atlantic and Pacific coasts but also the Caribbean, Central and South America as well.

The unpaid workers have mortgages, car notes, credit cards, rents, plus medical and other bills to pay. Do they qualify for unemployment compensation? Should they be expected to max out their cards, deplete meager savings, scrounge from family and friends or visit food banks? One thing we know for certain — the principals in this charade, President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are able to meet their financial obligations worry-free and on full stomachs.

Most of us have seen or read news reports of Trump saying he’s prepared to let the impasse drag on for months if not years. We’ve also seen Pelosi with a broad Jack Nicholson grin waving the speaker’s gavel like a mallet with which to whack a mole. Ah, politicians. Ain’t they sumpin’?

It is generally understood the shutdown is the result of Trump’s insistence that Congress approve $5.7 billion to start building a wall of some kind on the U.S./Mexico border to halt easy, illegal entry into the U.S. Of course, whether such a structure would actually work is anybody’s guess since many other such schemes have been tried over the decades, with no appreciable deterrence.

One of them was the 2006 Secure Fence Act proposed by President George W. Bush, for which 23 Democratic senators, including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, voted. Boeing Co. then won the contract to build something it called the Secure Border Initiative to install 1,800 towers equipped with cameras plus heat and motion detectors along the borders with Mexico and Canada. After constructing a few towers along a short stretch of the border with Mexico, Boeing realized the system was impractical, and the project was cancelled in 2011.

The wall envisioned by Trump has some practicality, as shown by Israel’s West Bank wall that has pretty much halted Palestinian terrorist attacks in Israel. However, Pelosi and her fellow Democrats have effectively turned it into a political football. This is because they know it is the campaign promise most easily identified with the president and are hell-bent on denying him a victory that would label him “Trump the Wall Builder” going into the 2020 election cycle.

This is also evident because the $5.7 billion the president is seeking is peanuts, insignificant in a 2019 federal budget of $4.407 trillion. Put another way, that’s $4,407 billion, of which the president is requesting merely $5.7 billion.

Furthermore, the president fully declared his intentions in his introduction in the 2019 budget he presented. The document called “An American Budget: 2019” states: “The safety and security of the American people is the foundation upon which the administration built the budget. The budget makes significant investments in border security, specifically in the Southwest border wall and robust immigration enforcement.”

While about two-thirds of the budget ($3.102 trillion) is eaten up by mandatory spending (Social Security, Medicare, etc.) the president has pruned about $50 billion in certain discretionary areas amounting to about 10 times the $5.7 billion he’s requesting for the wall.

Pelosi, on the other hand, should not be underestimated. She’s small physically but has an outsized ego and determination not only as fighting for Democratic resurgence but also to defeat the president in 2020 and avenge her party’s 2016 rout. While ostensibly a tall order, Pelosi has the background and moxie to do it.

Approaching 79 years of age, she has been in Congress for over three decades and established herself as a formidable foe. She represents California's 12th District, encompassing much of San Francisco and its environs, one of the safest and most liberal Democratic seats in Congress. She also has an impeccable political pedigree. Her father, Thomas D’Alessandro Jr., was a congressman from Maryland and mayor of Baltimore.

Hers is a take-no-prisoners style, and according to a recent tweet from her daughter, she’ll cut your head off. She also has to keep looking over her shoulder to keep foul-mouthed Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and wild-eyed Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., in check.

This impasse is not insurmountable if only the principals would realize they should be working for us, the people, not to burnish their self-aggrandized images.

There’s an old African proverb about the grass getting trampled when elephants fight. We already know who are getting trampled in this epic battle. The question is, will the situation get better or worse? The answer lies in whether Trump and Pelosi decide to tango or tangle.

Stafford A. Garbutt, of Gary, is a naturalized American citizen and native of Belize. The opinions are the writer's.


Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.