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OpEdge: The Make-Busy Congress

Marc Jampole
January 6, 2017

by Marc Jampole

THERE MIGHT BE some possibility of convincing Donald Trump and the Republicans not to build a wall along the Mexican border if they sincerely felt threatened by an invasion of undocumented immigrants. Once they learned that more of the undocumented have been leaving the U.S. than entering over the past few years, and once they computed the true cost of a new wall, and once they saw the Department of Justice estimates of the low number of people a wall would actually block from entering — all of these facts might sway them to change their minds and not pursue this enormously expensive boondoggle.

Unfortunately, Trumpty-Dumpty and his GOP cohorts act not out of a misguided effort to solve a nonexistent problem, but for two intertwined, cynical reasons. Most GOP members — but perhaps not the unread and inexperienced Trump — know that undocumented immigrants are not a security threat to the United States and that between Presidents Bush II and Obama, we have already pumped up border patrols, rounded up and deported the “bad guys,” and instituted “extreme vetting.” They simply use the wall as a political catalyst to enrage and frighten voters, especially those prone to nativist or racist views. The Republicans can’t be convinced that the wall is nonsense because they already know it and don’t care. That’s why the GOP and Trump are proposing an accelerated timetable for starting construction on a wall instead of quietly dropping it as another in many empty campaign promises.

The second reason has to do with money. Trump represents the apotheosis of the post-Reagan Republican Party in many ways, but no more so than in his belief that the real function of government is to collect taxes for use by private industry, one of the pillars of Republicanism since the days of Ronald Reagan. Trump is the ultimate crony capitalist. He has bragged in the past of buying the support of politicians. Many of his developments received governmental aid of one sort or another. Many of his cabinet members, most notably the incoming Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, have dedicated their careers to privatizing essential government functions.

And have no doubt about it, building a wall is the ripest, juiciest, lowest-hanging fruit on the tree of government largess to corporations because it doesn’t take much more expertise than knowing how to set rebar and pour concrete to do it. If we were talking about building a fighter jet, the government would have two companies from which to choose. Not many more if we were talking about investing billions of dollars in improving our cybersecurity. But there are dozens of large and small contractors in every state with the experience and capabilities to build Trump’s wall. That means that there are going to be many opportunities for Trump and Republican members of Congress to reward their friends with contracts for building the wall. It’s going to be the biggest swindle of the American people since Bush II’s Iraq War, which was in large part fought by what used to be called mercenaries, i.e., private firms contracted by the Department of Defense to provide key military services that the military once did for itself.

While it provides a lot of government contracts, the new wall between the United States and Mexico will make no one safer nor keep many people out. It’s nothing more than “make-busy” work.

IT SEEMS that Trump and the Republican congress have prioritized this kind of “make-busy” work as the most important platform promises to get started fulfilling. They are behaving as a bunch of 10-year-olds cutting scrap paper or moving files to help mommy at her job on “Take Your Kid to Work” day. Besides authorizing the funds to begin building a wall, the Republicans are hell-bent on repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which will likely turn out to be another make-busy waste of time.

Here’s why: The problem is that Congress has only three choices in repealing Obamacare:

  1. Take away the health insurance of 20 million Americans, while putting three million people out of work, increasing the cost of health insurance for everyone else and increasing the deficit.


  1. Go to a single payer system (which FYI wouldn’t really hurt insurance companies if we followed the German model, but will have a great financial effect on physicians and hospitals)


  1. Reconstruct a system that looks pretty much like Obamacare: a delicate balance of taxes, incentives, subsidies and important benefits that the American public have quickly come to believe are birthrights, such as accepting people for coverage with pre-existing conditions, not having a lifetime cap on coverage and keeping children on parents’ insurance until age 26. Ending coverage for pre-existing conditions would in and of itself lead to an estimated 53 million people losing their healthcare insurance.

The cynical GOP know the first option will lead to certain defeat at the polls and that the second one looks too much like socialism, so my prediction is that the GOP’s version of healthcare reform will resemble what we currently have, with the possible addition of a very small voucher program to justify the clamor that the healthcare system must operate more on free market principles.

That means that like the wall, the GOP’s healthcare reform process will likely waste a lot of time -- and money -- in meaningless activity.

Pass the juice box, Paulie. And don’t horde all the paper clips and staples, Donnie.

Marc Jampole is author of Music from Words (Bellday Books, for sale at our Pushcart). A former television reporter, he is a member of the Jewish Currents editorial board, blogs regularly (“OpEdge”) at our website, and writes frequently for our magazine.