News & Analysis of Economic, Racial, Gender Justice and More

In today’s news headlines, the Congressional Budget Office released a report on Monday that concluded the 35-day government shutdown cost taxpayers a total of $11 billion. According to the report, “In CBO’s estimation, the shutdown dampened economic activity mainly because of the loss of furloughed federal workers’ contribution to GDP, the delay in federal spending on goods and services, and the reduction in aggregate demand.” Of the $11 billion loss, $3 billion will never be recovered. Meanwhile government agencies impacted by the record-breaking shutdown are struggling to recover and resume operations. Furloughed workers that have missed 2 paychecks are likely to begin receiving back pay by the middle of next week. But federal contract workers – including low paid workers like janitors, food service workers, and security guards – are not guaranteed back pay. It may be months or even years before all the impacts of the shutdown are undone.

It was apparently federal aviation workers whose low staffing levels leading to serious flight delays that pressured President Donald Trump to reverse his position on the shutdown. There was additional pressure on Trump from unions representing flight attendants and pilots that had written a strongly worded letter warning that the safety of air travel was at risk, and also a threat of a general strike by the head of the Flight Attendants union.

But the bill that Congress passed on Friday only guaranteed government funding for 3 weeks – a period that many hope will be enough time for a newly formed committee of 17 lawmakers to resolve the impasse that Democrats and Trump were at over Trump’s demand for a border wall. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Sunday Trump was asked how likely he thought it was that the committee would be able to come to an agreement. He replied, “I personally think it’s less than 50-50, but you have a lot of very good people on that board.” When the interviewers asked him if he would accept anything less than the $5.7 billion he has demanded, he replied, “I doubt it. I have to do it right.”

White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney also dimmed hopes of a positive resolution before the February 15th deadline.  White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on an  interview on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday said that Trump was willing to shut the government down again in 3 weeks if he didn’t get what he wanted.

Meanwhile some lawmakers are making a push to outlaw government shutdowns. Republican Senator Lamar Alexander said, “Shutting down the government should be as off limits in budget negotiations as chemical warfare is in real warfare.” According to the New York Times, “Veterans of past shutdowns have come to learn that there are few, if any, winners in the end and that closing the government has not proved effective as a negotiating strategy for those who use the government as a lever to press their case. It didn’t work for Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, for Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and House conservatives in 2013 or for Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and fellow Democrats early in 2018 when they relented on a shutdown after just three days.” Republican Senator Rob Portman reintroduced a bill to ban shutdowns this month, which now has 18 co-sponsors. Portman has been trying to get such a bill passed for years.

Senator Kamala Harris officially kicked off her presidential bid in Oakland, California on Sunday. The junior Senator from California had served as the state’s Attorney General when she was seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party.

Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks corporation has also decided to run for President. Schultz announced his bid as a, “centrist independent,” in an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes on Sunday. He was asked his views on a number of topics including healthcare.  A number of Democrats howled in protest, urging Schultz to not run saying that his candidacy would split votes and help Trump win reelection.

In international news, the US and Afghan Taliban have made more progress on peace talks than ever before since the start of the longest war. On Monday, Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Envoy to Afghanistan and chief negotiator with the Taliban said that both sides had agreed on a framework agreement that could lead to the pullout of all US troops. Khalilzad said in an interview with the New York Times, “The Taliban have committed, to our satisfaction, to do what is necessary that would prevent Afghanistan from ever becoming a platform for international terrorist groups or individuals.”  Afghan women serving in the Parliament however fear that a US departure would once more leave them at the mercy of the misogynist Taliban.  Robina Hamdard with the group, Afghan Women’s Network said, “We don’t want a peace that will make the situation worse for women’s rights compared to now.”

And in Venezuela, where opposition leader Juan Guaido has declared himself President, democratically elected President Nicolas Maduro oversaw a military exercise on Sunday, in a show of power.  According to Reuters, “Maduro said the display showed the world he had the backing of the military and that Venezuela’s armed forces were ready to defend the country. Maduro says Guaido is taking part in a coup directed by Trump’s hardline policy advisers, who include Cold War veterans John Bolton and Elliott Abrams.”

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