As I write this column, the longest government shutdown in U.S. history stretches toward a full month in length. There is no sign at this moment that an agreement to reopen it is within reach.
In this week’s front-page interview with EPA scientist Mindi Snoparksy, she makes the case for how a prolonged government shutdown will have profound effects on everything from clean air and water to food inspection and more. Fundamental functions of government that keep Americans healthy and secure are on a forced hiatus.
In addition to lost services, there are some 800,000 federal workers in the United States that are no longer being paid. They’ve missed one paycheck already, and it looks very likely they’ll miss their next. Imagine going for a full month without pay. For most Americans, that alone would be catastrophic.
A widely cited CareerBuilder survey found that 78 percent of Americans said they were living from paycheck to paycheck. That same survey found that 56 percent of Americans were in debt “over their heads” and were unable to save more than $100 a month. This was not a survey of the poor, but of working, middle-class people. One in 10 in the survey who earned more than $100,000 a year also said they were living paycheck to paycheck.
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 30,000 federal workers are employed in Philadelphia. Many of them live in Chestnut Hill and in the surrounding neighborhoods. Their economic stability is being needlessly tested over a funding dispute for a border wall that is largely unpopular with a majority of Americans, with less than 40 percent in favor of funding it.
As the shutdown continues to rack up unprecedented days in length, the reasonability for restoring government will be fully in the hands of a Congress that has largely abdicated responsibility for nearly everything with which it’s been presented.
Designed to be a co-equal branch of government to the Executive, Congress is precisely where the funding debate for the wall should take place and where it should be resolved. If the votes to fund it don’t exist, then they don’t exist. Yet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConell has said he’s not interested in crossing the President, who remains nearly universally popular within the Republican party.
By letting the government shutdown persist, McConnell and Senate Republicans are punting on their responsibility. The shutdown is imperiling all Americans through degraded airport, security and food inspection, etc. It’s causing needless suffering for federal workers who continue to go without pay and it’s ceding its Congressional power to the Presidency, which is a big mistake.
The trend of governing by executive action was troubling under President Barack Obama and it continues to be troubling now. President Trump has upped the ante by adding a hostage situation to the mix. It shouldn’t be allowed to continue. Congress has the power to re-open the government. It should do so today.