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Trump revives shutdown threats over border wall funding

"This would be a very good time to do a shutdown."

President Donald Trump. CREDIT: Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool/Getty Images
President Donald Trump. CREDIT: Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool/Getty Images

The coming weeks “would be a very good time to do a shutdown” to force Congress to approve funding for a physical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, President Trump said Saturday.

The president has already forced the government to shut briefly two times over the controversial policy, which was the central promise of his 2016 campaign but draws little enthusiasm from border security experts.

In each case, the standoffs were resolved within a few days, and the consequences were more theatrical than practical. But that’s not always been the case in the past, when more sincere and dug-in parties kept the government shut for weeks at a time.

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While a border wall has far less material, substantive effect in reducing border-crossing than its emotional value to the president’s relationship with his base, the consequences of a real shutdown — that is to say, longer than the hours- or days-long flickers Trump’s induced in federal budget capacities twice this year — can be dire.

Republicans forced a 16-day shutdown in 2013 during bully-ball budget negotiations with then-President Barack Obama. The sandbox fight knocked $23 billion worth of economic activity off the country’s growth for the year. The country’s National Parks lost about $450,000 in revenue per day during the closure.

Those topline dollar figures don’t fully illustrate what a shutdown does to the lives of people seeking help from the bureaucracies that interface between the public and the services they pay for, however.

Government shutdowns disrupt casework of various kinds, slow or stop the processing of complex and time-sensitive processes involving grant funding, taxpayer-subsidized loans, health care reimbursement, and other staples of the relationship between a people and their representatives.

The wall itself continues to be incoherent as policy, but potent as politics. Trump’s supporters continue to demand it, and to look askance at anyone who points out that even the Border Patrol, former Homeland Security Secretary turned Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly, and various border-district Republicans think barricading the entire southern border as the president has promised would be a fool’s errand.