BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
The impasse between the legislative and executive branches in Washington, DC has led to the “government shutdown” dominating U.S. news in recent days. Before addressing the issue itself and its connection to Armenian concerns, here’s some background, just on the federal level – it seems there have been some state shutdowns, too.
This is not the first shutdown. I remembered two others. According to Wikipedia, there have been nine others with the first occurring in 1980. All were shorter in duration, with two lasting just one afternoon or impacting just one federal department. All but two impacted far fewer federal employees. The previous shutdowns occurred, as with the current one, because the aforementioned branches of government could not agree on issues of spending, either broad, some might call them “principled”, issues of spending. As I understand it, all federal employees eventually got reimbursed their back-pay once the shutdown ended.
This time, it’s different. The impasse is over one issue – the infamous border wall. The question is whether to spend $5.6 billion to build a barrier of some sort along the U.S.-Mexico border as a means of preventing illegal crossings. Some 800,000 federal employees are going unpaid. 420,000 of them are considered “essential” and are working without pay, but will compensated after the shutdown ends. Another 380,000 have been furloughed. As things currently stand, this group will not be paid (however, a similar situation in a previous shutdown led to lawsuits and the employees getting paid).
Obviously, the worst impact is being felt by the 800,000 employees who have families to feed, mortgages to maintain, and bills of all sorts to pay. What are they supposed to do, get temp jobs? It is utterly heartless to put them in this situation which is not of their making. They have done nothing wrong, yet they are being punished. But citizens are also impacted. National parks are being shut down. Some government assistance programs to the needy are being affected. Security functions are being undermined, which is really ironic since President Trump claims his paramount concern is border security.
This is utterly irresponsible. The leaders causing this mess have mostly never been in need and probably have little visceral sense of the bind people are in. This applies most to Trump who started out as a millionaire and has since (allegedly) become a billionaire. How can he possibly know what living paycheck-to-paycheck is like? The irresponsibility is borne out by another smaller, example. The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was established by law in 1965. It is funded primarily from lease payments to the government for offshore oil and gas drilling. The money is used to purchase land and easements for the public to use (though some of the money is often diverted for other purposes). It is extremely popular and has funded numerous projects over the past half century. The law requires periodic reauthorization and enjoys broad, bi-partisan support. But the Senate leadership blocked reauthorization which would otherwise have passed easily. This demonstrates the vindictive/petty/destructive state of mind among those making the decisions. Otherwise, why would a popular, helpful, beloved, politically-supported program not be re-authorized?
As to the current shutdown, the fault is clearly Trump’s. He has gladly accepted responsibility. Thus, he clearly demonstrates an utter lack of understanding of the U.S. system of government. The branches of government are supposed to check one another and ultimately generate some mutually tolerable compromise. Yet Trump is insisting on an all-or-nothing approach and refusing to negotiate, thus foisting the shutdown on the country. He doesn’t care, he’s just acting like the spoiled brat he has been all his life. Enough, end it, put everyone back to work and do your jobs as president, representatives, and senators!
The connection to the Republic of Armenia is that the country is in the midst of a re-organization of ministries, with several of them slated for oblivion. The one we, Armenians living outside of the country, have heard the most about is the Diaspora ministry, but others are on the chopping block, too. This may be a good idea. Certainly, reviewing the utility and performance of agencies cannot hurt, but the mind-set behind such a process is important. If someone is a neo-ideologue approaching the matter pre-disposed to believe there is bloated bureaucracy needing trimming, then that’s likely what they’ll see. Instead of coldly evaluating whether certain functions are needed and whether they are being performed by the agency, they’ll simply attack the problem with an axe and feel good about having done something. Meanwhile, the employees who lose their jobs will be stuck, much like those furloughed by the U.S. shutdown. Their lost income will negatively impact the already struggling Armenian economy.
If the treatment of the Diaspora Ministry is any indication, the process is sorely lacking. There is no question that this ministry has failed to live up to expectations. Largely, that was due to the incompetence of the previous minister, Hranoush Hakobian. Equally, there is no question that this is a necessary ministry, with the huge task of integrating the life of the Diaspora (some 75% of our nation) with that of the two Armenian republics. This must be done. Let’s spell out the task at hand, appoint competent and dedicated people to the ministry to achieve the goals set out. Instead, we’re just hearing that it is being dissolved with its functions possibly moved elsewhere.
Nowhere is this kind of irresponsible governance acceptable, not in North America nor in the Armenian Highlands. Let’s squeeze our leaders and representatives and oblige them to act responsibly, putting the public interest ahead of any personal, egotistical approaches or half-baked, impractical, but ideologically/politically appealing approaches. Let them know how you feel, from Washington to Yerevan!