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This first appeared in the Panama City Herald

How long will the government shutdown last?

That’s the question many federal workers are asking after Democrats and Republicans failed to reach an agreement on the federal budget.

The question only can be answered by one person: the president. He is the man holding the budget hostage as he insists on money for a border wall. It will be up to him next year as to whether a budget can be passed.

He gets kudos on trying to deliver on a campaign promise, but it was a half-hearted, empty promise. There already is a border wall in many places, but not “sea to shining sea,” as one pundit put it.

But chanting “Build a wall” makes for a great soundbite, which he probably didn’t think he’d need to deliver.

His supporters, however, remain committed to the wall, and he doesn’t want to lose their support, especially as it has eroded on all other sides. And, perhaps more than anything else, the president doesn’t want to lose the support of the TV anchors and talk show hosts he depends on to feed his ego.

So here’s the question to ponder as Democrats prepare to take over the House of Representatives: What do Democrats have to lose if they remain faithful to their position of no $5 billion for a border wall? The answer is weakened support from federal workers and their families. But it seems like theirs is the more prudent stance — and the easier negotiating position to be in — than Trump’s. He seems to be holding out for a magical figure that wouldn’t cover the cost of a border wall from California to Texas.

Democrats might want to think about whether Trump would come back and demand more funding once whatever they allot runs out. And, as we have argued before, can we afford to build a wall when our deficit continues to increase? Isn’t that just as dangerous as the “threat” of illegal immigrants crossing our border like they have been doing for years? What would happen if our creditors decide to demand repayment? The answer there is both hypothetical and complicated. The point, however, is pretty simple: Unless there is an imminent threat, we can’t afford to build walls that are ineffective just to please the president’s fans. Better to save the money and invest it in our future than to waste it on something that looks good in front of the cameras.

What’s unclear is how long it will take for both sides to realize neither needs to budge in its position to both lose and win the battle.

Meanwhile, the American people will continue to shake their heads and wag their fingers at a prime example of inefficient governing.

One thing that may be comforting is the knowledge that it wasn’t always like this. But here we are as we wait out political temper tantrums.

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