President Donald Trump says that if Congress doesn't give him money for his border wall, “probably I will do it. I would almost say definitely.” He's talking about declaring the situation on the Mexican border a national emergency, so he can fund the wall without Congress. I hope he doesn't, because it's not a real emergency. If it were, there would be no need for the steady stream of exaggerations, distortions and outright lies that the president and his team have told us.
If Trump wants to focus on a national emergency, he needn’t travel all the way to the Rio Grande, as he did Thursday. There are plenty of real crises for him to deal with. Some are not as visible and high profile and therefore not so apparent to this visually influenced president, yet they exist and need to be addressed. Here are some examples of what I consider emergencies:
►The government shutdown right in front of his eyes. This is an emergency for 800,000 federal workers, and many more contract workers, who are not getting paid. Many are being required to work without pay, and others are being required not to work. This will almost certainly become an emergency for the rest of us if it drags on. Already, fewer food inspectors are on the job and airline safety inspectors are among the furloughed.
►Teachers are quitting in record numbers. The reasons are many, including low pay and poor working conditions. Who will teach kids science, math and all the other things they’ll need to compete in an ever competitive global economy?
►Empty piggy banks. What’s in your wallet? Perhaps nothing: Four in 10 Americans couldn’t cover an unexpected $400 expense, according to the Federal Reserve. If this isn’t a crisis, I don't know what is. Policymakers, employers and others must find ways to bolster the financial security of tens of millions of Americans who are living on the brink. Here’s some more pleasant financial news: Perhaps while you weren’t looking, the Trump administration quietly warned that Social Security may have to be slashed 21 percent come 2034. That seems far off, but given how our squabbling politicians can’t cooperate on much, who’s to say they’ll be able to fix this ticking bomb?
►Fiscal crisis. Remember all the talk about the $20 trillion national debt that Trump inherited and how it would ruin us? It’s now $22 trillion and projected to soar to — get this — $33 trillion by fiscal year 2028, now nearly eight years and nine months away.
Interest payments alone could top spending on defense, Medicaid or children’s programs — not to mention crowding out spending on god knows how many other things. Again, we’re not talking spending on principal — just interest. And if interest rates go up, it’ll soak taxpayers even more. Now that's an emergency.
Read more commentary:
►Foreigners fleeing. You might not know that nearly 7 million Americans work for foreign employers. This is hardly a token number, and backing it up has always been steady investment by others in the United States. For example, in 2015, foreigners invested $482 billion here. In 2016: $486 billion. But in 2017 that plunged 40 percent to $292 billion, and preliminary data show this number fell even more last year.
There are several reasons for this, acknowledges the Organization for International Investment, a Washington-based trade group that represents U.S. subsidiaries of overseas corporations. Yet one of them is undeniable: It is, the report says, “a response to import tariffs and other trade actions from the Trump administration as international companies hit the pause button on potential investments.”
There are some Americans who don’t care what foreigners think. But money talks — it supports millions of jobs — and now it's walking, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. As the world loses confidence in America, the economic and security ramifications could be significant.
►U.S. life expectancy is falling. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show 2017 was the third consecutive decline. The drops have been small — a 10th of a year to 78.6 years in 2017 — but that’s enough to set off alarm bells among health and policy experts, who consider it a shocking reversal for a “wealthy” first-world country.
Do you consider immigrants a security threat? Consider some of the not-so-hidden killers among us: Drug overdoses killed 70,237 people in 2017 — quadruple 1999’s figure. There were 39,773 gun deaths in 2017, a four-decades high; nearly two-thirds of those were suicides. Also beginning to take a toll: diabetes. The CDC says more than 100 million Americans are either diabetic or prediabetic — an omen of future trouble.
So I’m glad there's a chance the president will not label the situation on the border an emergency. And I hope he'll redirect his attention to the many other problems that might qualify, including those on this list.
Paul Brandus, founder and White House bureau chief of West Wing Reports, is the author of "Under This Roof: The White House and the Presidency" and is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @WestWingReport
You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 6 real emergencies that should be more important to Donald Trump than the wall