Rex Nutting: Trump says the wall will protect us, but the shutdown itself is dangerous

Food safety is a casualty of Trump’s shutdown.

If you’re going to shut down the federal government to win a political argument, the tactic works best if you really don’t care if it ever opens up again. A sneering disdain for the ability of government to accomplish any good has been behind every shutdown. Until this one.

Donald Trump is the first Republican to shut down the government because he wants it to do more, not less. He says he wants the government to build a big beautiful wall to keep America safe.

Shutting down the government is an odd way to make us safer. Thousands of government workers who protect us are sitting home twiddling their thumbs, while others are still working but without any pay.

Must read from the archives: The 10 best things government has done for us

For instance, the Food and Drug Administration has curtailed inspections of food-processing facilities during the partial shutdown, although it says it’s working to inspect “high-risk” facilities. Last year, the FDA investigated 24 multistate outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, including salmonella, E. coli and listeria. Hundreds were sickened and at least five died from eating romaine lettuce.

What would you say to someone who lost a loved one because she ate a tainted tomato? That building the wall made it all worth it?

People who think government has overreached often claim that private industry can police itself, but there’s no evidence that self-policing is effective. The motive to cut corners on safety is strong, especially if you think your competitors are playing it safe.

Remember when Alan Greenspan said the banks could police themselves? How did that turn out?

Also read: Government has taken hostage too much of the economy

Many of the agencies that protect us have been crippled by the shutdown, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Indian Health Service.

Of course, some of the government workers who protect us are still on the job, but without pay. They are considered “essential” employees. For instance, about 95,000 employees at the Justice Department are working without pay, which means the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Prisons, and U.S. attorneys are working for free.

You can imagine that a short shutdown of a few days or a few weeks wouldn’t have much impact on their performance. But if the shutdown lasted for months or years (as Trump has threatened), who knows? These are stressful jobs in the best of times. Even government workers need to eat, pay the mortgage, make the car payment and pay their student loan.

There are reports that some “essential” workers are calling in sick. The union representing 50,000 workers at the Transportation Security Agency said a rising number are quitting or thinking of quitting.

Over at the Coast Guard (which is also working without pay), the first responders have been advised by the brass to sell their possessions on Craigslist or take on babysitting jobs to make ends meet.

And the Secret Service agents who protect Trump and his family are working without pay. Doesn’t Trump want the people who protect him to be focused on his security, not their own financial worries?

Even Trump can see that the shutdown can’t continue much longer, which is why it’s very likely that he’ll declare that building his wall is necessary because it’s a national emergency. A continuing budget resolution could then let the government reopen, and those workers could once again worry about our safety instead of whether they’ll get a paycheck.

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