Congress

Shutdown heads into day 20 with no end in sight

Federal union chief J. David Cox flanked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (Photo credit: Chase Gunter/FCW) 

Federal union chief J. David Cox flanked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (Photo credit: Chase Gunter/FCW)

President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats remain in a standoff over funding the government, with Trump stalking out of a Jan. 9 meeting with Democratic leaders at the White House and Dems saying their "path forward" requires reopening shuttered agencies.

At a press conference, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), surrounded by union representatives and furloughed federal employees, discussed the real-world effects of the shutdown on federal employees, urging the White House and congressional Republicans to set aside negotiations on the wall until after government is reopened.

"The reality is, the president could end this Trump shutdown and reopen government today," said Pelosi. "Instead, he has chosen a wall over workers." She said that in lieu of a physical wall, Democrats would be willing to support technology and other investments for the southern border. "There's a path here, but not one the administration wants to take," she said.

Trump, however repeated his position that the wall is essential.

"We can all play games, but the wall is a necessity," he said. "All of the other things -- the sensors and the drones -- it's all wonderful to have, it works well if you have the wall. If you don't have the wall, it doesn't matter."

Trump took to Twitter to call a Jan. 9 meeting with Pelosi and Schumer, "a total waste of time."

"I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!" he tweeted.

At the press conference, Schumer said the "dark irony" of the shutdown over what the president is calling border security leaves Transportation Security Agency, Customs and Border Patrol, and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officers, among others, without pay.

As federal workers will soon miss their first complete paycheck, more Republicans lawmakers are breaking ranks and supporting the possibility of passing individual appropriations bills, with a continuing resolution for the Department of Homeland Security.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ala.) tweeted Jan. 9, "there is no good reason for a shutdown."

"The reality is thousands of federal employees [and] contractors have no paycheck in sight, small businesses that rely on them are suffering [and] there's no reason they should be held hostage to a political dispute," she said.

Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) also have said they'd vote yes on the proposal to reopen government with a stopgap bill for DHS.

Senate Democrats have said they would block bills unrelated to reopening government while the shutdown continues. Schumer said the "first order of business" must be reopening the government, pointing out the Senate overwhelmingly passed the funding bills in the last Congress before the shutdown.

As far as how furloughed employees are handling the shutdown, Trump said per a press pool report, "they have been terrific."

"These are terrific patriots," he said. "A lot of them agree with what I'm doing."

J. David Cox, President of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents about 700,000 federal employees, adamantly disagreed, saying feds "want this shutdown to end this very minute."

"Federal employees are absolutely, completely and without reservation opposed to this government shutdown lockout," Cox said.

Real-world impacts

Federal employees shared the real-world impact of the shutdown on both themselves and their coworkers at the event hosted by Democratic leaders.

Edward Hill, a furloughed Census Bureau employee, said in many of cases, employees "don't know" if the agency has tried reaching out to them.

"I have no communication with my job at all," he said. "Because all of that is through email, and if I access email, I get in trouble because that's considered [work during the shutdown]."

According to a 2017 survey conducted by the employment website CareerBuilder, nearly four in five Americans live paycheck to paycheck. And while media avenues do exist, many employees don't feel comfortable sharing the extent of their struggles due to the shutdown, Hill said.

Despite the fact most Americans are in a similar position, "it's very difficult for a person to go in front of the national media admitting that they live paycheck to paycheck," he said.

As for the guidance federal employees have received, Holly Salamido, president of AFGE council 222 representing Housing and Urban Development Employees, said "none of the suggestions made by OPM or the administration have been helpful."

She specifically said that OPM's guidance issued over the Christmas holiday -- which has since been revised -- "is just not realistic."

"Creditors want their money, they don't want you to paint their walls," he said, adding that the sample letters to creditors OPM provided are not helpful as long as employees aren't getting paid.

"There are trickle-down effects to all of this," she said. "The landlord who doesn't get his money can't pay his bills, and may not be able to spend as he normally would."

Steve Reaves, a safety officer at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said it's not merely missing a single rent, mortgage or credit payment; the effect can potentially hurt credit ratings. And at an agency like FEMA, financial insecurity can impact one's ability to obtain a security clearance.

In addition to potential effects on mental health, stress and personal finances, Reaves said within the agency, employees are "starting to worry" about the agency's level of preparedness for upcoming disasters.

"We're at the point in FEMA where it's like, you know what, it's getting sketchy. We don't know if we're going to be ready for the next big one now," he said. "Right now is the only time we have in a year to prepare, to get ready for the upcoming year" and conduct training at the federal and local levels before spring floods, tornado season, then hurricane season hit.

"Where is FEMA? We're furloughed," he said.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a former FCW staff writer.

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