It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, but the news of the week has had me calling my Congressman and Senators, more than once. The prospect of a government shutdown appalls me.
I grew up in the Washington, DC area. My parents worked for the government, as did my neighbors and our family friends. I remember the last shutdown, 17 years ago, when my family had to go without a paycheck from my stepmother’s job at the Agency for International Development for three weeks.
This time it’s worse. This time federal workers have already had to suffer higher workloads and unpaid furloughs because of the sequester. Whatever cushion they might have had to help get them through a week or three without a being paid has already been used up. There is no fund to help them; they will still be responsible for paying rent, covering bills, buying food, putting gas in the car to get their kids to school. For someone who lives paycheck to paycheck, as many government workers do, a shutdown could be devastating.
There’s been a lot of attention to the 1.4 million military service members who would normally go without pay during a government shutdown, and the House and Senate have agreed to pay them. Very little attention has been paid to two million civil servants – almost half of whom will be sent home, and all of whom will remain unpaid. (It is worth mentioning that in the event of a shutdown, members of Congress still do get paid. Civil servants do not.)
We don’t hear very much in the national media about the people who will be directly hurt when the government shuts down. This isn’t just about whether we’ll be able to visit a national park or go to the Smithsonian; it’s about ordinary working people’s lives. Nobody should have to lose their credit rating, or heaven forbid their home, or go hungry, because a group of politicians decide to throw a temper tantrum.
I’m glad the Senate has held firm, and hope they continue to – anything else would only encourage a dangerous and destructive pattern in politics. The issue at hand is not the health care law, it’s whether it is ethical to hold ordinary civil servants, the economy, and the American people hostage to unrelated policy demands.
After the last shutdown, Congress voted to make federal workers whole and give them back pay. I can only hope that when the shutdown is over, this Congress will remember the people who did nothing to deserve this punishment. Unfortunately what I’ve seen does not give me much hope. And it does nothing for the damage that will have been done to peoples’ lives.
Tonight many civil servants are working unpaid overtime to prepare for a shutdown – and they will do so again to clear the backlog of work when the situation is finally resolved. I’m grateful for their service. What’s being done to them is morally repugnant, and we owe it to them and their families to treat them well during the days and weeks ahead.
If you care about this issue, as I do, please contact your member of Congress and Senators. Remember that the people who live in Washington, DC have no vote in Congress. That makes it all the more important that the rest of us make our voices heard.