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Shutdown grinds on: Pay missed, feds suffer—and unions and critics push back

About a quarter of the federal government’s departments and agencies remained shut down entering a third week—kicking off a 2019 where the White House and congressional leaders showed themselves unable—and unwilling—to come to terms to pass funding bills to revive normal operations.

After the holiday break, lawmakers came together in Washington, but remained in a standoff over billions of dollars in funding for a southern border wall, insisted upon by President Trump and his allies in Congress.  

Where is the current impasse headed? Some experts say they see the partial shutdown continuing for some time.

“The short answer is it is going to take a while for what I like to call ‘constituent pressure’ to take effect, possibly helping to stop this shutdown,” Robert Stein, a political scientist and frequent commentator on congressional politics, told FederalSoup. “People are just beginning to push back. This will vary by state, of course.”

“Here in Texas, for example—a place often called ‘solidly Republican’ or mostly Republican—you know what is actually happening, now? There are 26,000 affected NASA and contracting employees for that agency alone. It’s going to have a dramatic effect on local economies, and a lot of people are upset.”

“Take a look at Florida, another state in Republican hands, and you see the same thing happening—a lot of grumbling is happening already,” Stein continued. “I think this problem will go on for weeks and weeks. The wild card, in terms of how this might be resolved, of course, is the president.”

“This president—more than any we’ve seen in a very long time—listens to his own voice, and so I think the shutdown situation remains unpredictable,” Stein said. “I think it will take Republicans, House members in particular, who will lead on coming up with a deal with the Democrats—and that deal will likely be the original deal from 2017: DACA—some sort of [legal disposition for] the ‘dreamers’—in exchange for some funding for the Wall.”

“I think there will be a lot of pain before this gets solved,” he concluded.  

Stein noted that, in his opinion, in the end the wall and funding for it will not make much difference, and there will be plenty of immigration issues still requiring attention.

“Certainly the federal employees will be missing their paychecks—many have seen this before and they may not be that worried about it, short-term,” Kenneth Warren, a political scientist at St. Louis University, told FederalSoup. “Given what the president says about federal employees, he really just doesn’t care about this, in my opinion.”

Unions: Closure long, costs high

‘The personal and economic toll of the two-week partial government shutdown will continue to escalate until Congress and the administration resolve their differences and re-open all federal agencies,” the National Treasury Employees Union said in a press release.

NTEU represents employees across many affected agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service, Customs and Border Protection and, of course, the IRS.

“As this shutdown drags on, federal workers are becoming increasingly worried about when they will receive their next paycheck and how they will be able to pay their mortgage, rent, student loans and credit card bills,” NTEU President Tony Reardon wrote in a letter he sent to all members of Congress.

Reardon also denounced the president’s recent call for a no-raise 2019 for feds—calling the proposal “demonizing and cruel.”

Another major federal employee union, the American Federation of Government Employees, has sued the federal government in court over the shutdown. The union also likewise publicly decried the president’s push for no federal raise—and that the funding deadlock continued to grind on.

“Our union is urging Trump and Congress to come to an agreement, re-open our government, and pass long-term spending bills that include a 1.9% pay raise for federal employees in 2019,” AFGE said in a press release. “Failing to fund the government even for a day has real-world consequences.”

AFGE—also representing feds across many departments and agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Bureau of Prisons, reminded members and the public just how damaging recent shutdowns have been.

“The 2013 shutdown lasted 16 days, cost American taxpayers $24 billion, and caused valuable work to grind to a halt,” the press release said. “Hundreds of cancer patients, for example, were prevented from enrolling in NIH clinical trials. 6,300 children were denied access to Head Start programs for up to 9 days. 1,200 EPA site inspections were canceled. 1,400 OSHA inspections to prevent workplace fatalities and injuries were stopped.”

AFGE President J. David Cox listed the losses—and laid out the strong desire of feds to get back to normal, and back to regular paychecks, as soon as possible.

“Federal employees want to go to work. They believe in their mission and want to provide quality services to the American people,” said AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. “But now, 420,000 of them will report to work on Monday and won’t get paid for it. More than 380,000 employees will be locked out of work without pay. This is the third shutdown of the year, and it’s no way to run our country.”

Reader comments

Sat, Jan 12, 2019

Build the Wall.. Pelosi and Schumer Shutdown must end now.

Sun, Jan 6, 2019 Al

A question that comes to my mind is if Trump felt he had to sign an Executive Order to freeze Federal Employee pay raises because our budget couldn't support it...then how can it have 5 billion in it for his wall. I think both the raise and border security should funded. I do however have mixed feelings on a physical wall and I would like to see funding for more border agents and those agents being allowed to do their jobs.

Sat, Jan 5, 2019

Sad to say, $5 Billions is only a pittance, compared to overall Government expenditures. Yet, despite the cost to the taxpayers, Democrat politicians would rather politicize illegal and legal immigration rather than provide funding to build a wall along our southern border. Unfortunately, it is not the politicians who are doing the suffering as a result. Rather, it is the hard working Government employees who are doing the suffering. Government employees who reside in districts that have Democrat representatives should contact those representatives and demand they end their politics of obstructionism.

Sat, Jan 5, 2019 Walter Snell PR

The President said that he will allow the shutdown go on for years if necessary. But y'all should know that is just hyperbole. None of us can afford to work for even 3 months without pay--and then we Feds will have to walk. The chaos that will be engendered by this would be unprecedented.

Sat, Jan 5, 2019

Republicans had two years of running all three branches of government to fund a wall, and they could not get it done. Now they want to blame the Democrats instead of standing up to the President, the leader of their party. Do your jobs. Vote and pass the bills, and put them on his desk. Using federal employees as political pawns is just wrong. Reopen the government already!

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Edward A. Zurndorfer Certified Financial Planner
Mike Causey Columnist
Tom Fox VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service
Mathew B. Tully Legal Analyst

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