A year ago this week some long-service, long-suffering federal government workers were prepping for the slim possibility of a government shutdown over Christmas. The worried civil servants live, work and pay bills not only in the infamous Washington, D.C. swamp but also in big cities and small towns across the nation.
And all of them are old enough to vote!
At the time — mid-December 2018 — some said that Congress and the White House couldn’t be so callow and stupid to shut down the government over the holidays. Those people were, of course, wrong, because it happened before.
A Christmas shutdown:
First there was one from Nov.14-19, 1995, and because that worked so well (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) there was a follow-up shutdown from Dec. 16, 1995, to Jan. 6, 1996 — a grand total of 26 days. That resulted because of a hissing contest between Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.). The last shutdown, from December 2018 to January of this year, was between the White House occupied by a Republican and the U.S. House of Representatives run by the Democrats. So will it happen again?
The most recent shutdown was a 35-day hit and run. More than a million nonpostal workers were impacted. Some were forced to stay home and others were forced to work. Isn’t that sort of politically incorrect? Congress, by that time, had enjoyed eight extended, as in weeks and weeks-long work breaks, before the shutdown. The current tenants of the White House also had numerous times out before the shutdown.
Anyway you hack it, it was dumb. It muted or ruined the holidays for a lot of people. Not getting paid, especially if you are required to work during the shutdown can be painful. Some employees waited as much as 20 days after the end of the shutdown to get partial or full pay. Many rural communities’ economies are tied to the local military base, a federal prison, a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital, an IRS service center, national parks and NASA installations and so suffered. By some estimates the shutdown had an economic impact on not only feds involved but the locals in businesses that depend on feds as customers and consumers.
Contractors who were furloughed never did get paid.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Gross Domestic Product for the fourth quarter of 2018 was reduced by $3 billion because of the shutdown. And it chopped $8 billion from the projected GDP in the first quarter of 2019. Most of us probably don’t understand what that means, except that it’s probably not good. Maybe, given what else is happening, it’s enough to nudge us into a long-overdue major stock market correction?
Naturally the media center is Washington, D.C., aka “the swamp,” which includes major chunks of Maryland and Virginia, to some people beyond the Beltway. But important as the government is here — we have about 15% of the total nonpostal workforce — Uncle Sam is an even bigger deal in other places. Norman, Oklahoma; Fort Knox, Kentucky; Huntsville, Alabama; and Ogden, Utah, get hit when there’s a shutdown, too.
A survey of National Treasury Employees Union members showed that 81% of those answering said they are worried about their ability to pay bills for things like food, rent, etc., if there is a second shutdown this year. Visits to food banks and calls from angry creditors may be on their Christmas list again this year.
In fact-checking the numbers for this, I found this year-old email. It was from a working fed, an Army vet who was commenting on a column about the then-pending shutdown. Here’s part of what he said:
“… that no matter what the political environment is at the present time the majority of us are not here for any of that. We do not make policy, we just enforce what the politicians enact into law. I have worked through the years with so many dedicated and unselfish hardworking people who try very hard to make a difference every day for the people of this country. I too am one of the many who work very hard to make a difference and sacrifice so much including family to have a belief that we are all doing this for a purpose.
“There are a lot of federal employees who believe in what we are doing is making a difference but this is getting more and more difficult with the political machine tearing apart federal compensation and benefits for years. We all have made so many sacrifices throughout our careers financially to continue what we all believe is worth fighting for which is freedom and justice.
“In your article, you wrote about the furlough and what possible damage could it cause to all of us. For some reason, mainstream USA do not feel for whatever reason that hardworking federal employees are not human beings with families and responsibilities …
“I have worked and continue to work with a group of people who continue to protect life and limb and make sacrifices every day unselfishly with the risk of never coming home again. The American citizen needs to know that there are many of us serving our country proudly daily, and not asking for anything in return. We do this because we love what we do, not because of any other reason. There is nothing we can do if a furlough is enacted, but we will have to work regardless of being paid. Many federal employees make these sacrifices year after year; with pay or without pay does not matter to us.
“The American people need to know that many of us do not live on easy street, as we, like the public, pay for health insurance, taxes, Medicare, [Social Security], etc. None of this is free to any of us. Why the American public thinks that federal employees receive benefits for free is beyond most of us.
“Furloughs change a lot of financial structure for most federal employees and sacrifice economically until the disputes between parties are agreed upon. The American people sacrifice as well when their benefits are stopped and their money is no longer coming in monthly. Any furlough is never good for the hardworking American of the U.S.” — Dedicated Servant of the People.
In October 2018 the Gilbert Minnesota Police Department issued a public notice about local birds appearing “tipsy” because they had eaten berries which fermented early due to a frost. Police advised residents not to worry and that the animals would sober up soon.