The Lowe Down: On the government shutdown

The new year began in the midst of a very dramatic government shutdown. The shutdown occurred because of a dispute between the Democratic majority House of Representatives and President Trump, who said he would not sign any spending bill that does not include funding for his campaign centerpiece: a border wall between the United States and Mexico. House Democrats passed a bipartisan spending bill that allocated $1.3 billion for border security but no new funding specifically for a wall.The shutdown continued for weeks; it has become the longest in United States history and deeply affected federal workers who were furloughed or working awaiting backpay. In recent days a deal was reached between the President and Democrats that reopened the government for three weeks, but it is unclear what will happen when that time ends.

Nine of fifteen government departments were closed. This put 800,000 people out of work, including over 41,000 law enforcement officers, 52,000 IRS workers and 16,000 NASA employees. Many of these employees struggled to complete work. Those locally affected include a government contractor working on a NASA contract who preferred to remain anonymous.

“All contracts are written differently. The contract that I am on, we were ‘forward funded’ through the middle of January.” The contractor told me, “We are having to work from home and cannot go to our offices.”  

According to President Trump’s Tweet, he planned to keep the government shutdown, “For a very long period of time – months or even years.”

This could become an issue for people working on contracts that do not include much funding in the event of a long government shutdown. Since the government has reopened temporarily the financial strain has been lifted a bit. However it is possible that in february the government could enter another shutdown if no deal is made in the allotted negotiation period.

The NASA contractor told me, “I am a single parent income. If the shutdown continues for a prolonged period of time, our companies will have no choice but to lay us off. Not only will we not have a job or income, we will no longer have insurance.”

Anonymous further explained the issue, “Normally, in that case, laid off workers would apply for assistance (unemployment, food stamps, etc.) but that most likely will not be available either.  This affects way more than just the workers on my contract. This affects multi-millions of workers that all have a domino effect on each other.”

There is much debate over whether the issues regarding the government shutdown is reasonable to try and get funding for a border wall. Some have argued Trump and senators like Mitch McConnell, who refused to hold a vote on the bipartisan House bill that would reopen the government, were using federal workers as leverage to get Democrats to fund the wall.

Others like the NASA contractor disagree.

“Trump cannot back down now.”

After 35 days, Trump backed down. While negotiations continue, this is no indication of whether Trump will refuse to sign bills that do not include funding for a border wall when the three week government reopening ends.

Another group affected was National Parks’ employees.

Tim Cash is Chief of Digital Strategy for the National Parks Service and is responsible for policy, strategy, and overall management of the NPS digital experience.

People on both sides of the issue do believe border security is important. The debate concerns what is the best way to do that. Some aren’t sure what that is.

I very much believe in strong security on all borders, and my opinion remains the same now as before the shutdown. I don’t necessarily have an opinion on what solution is chosen, I just trust that the experts will be consulted in the decision-making process.”

Cash mainly works in Washington D.C. but works a percentage of his time from his home in Kentucky, is one of 800,000 government employees who have been furloughed .

“Fortunately, Congress voted this past week (week of Dec. 21) to provide back pay after the shutdown, and the President has indicated that he will sign that into law. Until then, I have no direct income, so like most other furloughed employees, I’m being very careful with my spending.”

Those affected frequently expressed this sentiment. Regardless of their personal opinion of the shutdown and the need for a border wall, all were concerned about when the government would reopen and stay open.

While most would agree this shutdown occurred because of political motivations, it is unclear who it has benefited. According to NPR, neither side is gained from the shutdown. In recent polls, President Trump is 42 percent favorable, 52 percent unfavorable (16 percent don’t know); Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is 39 percent favorable, 41 percent unfavorable (20 percent don’t know); and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, 27 percent favorable, 40 percent unfavorable (33 percent don’t know).