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Will this shutdown end?

| Monday, January 21, 2019

Even if you’ve tried to block out the horror that is the news cycle, you must’ve heard by now: the United States federal government is shut down. To be completely accurate, the latest shutdown is a partialshutdown — 75 percent of the government remains open and has been funded through September 2019. But the remaining 25 percent has been stuck without funding since Dec. 22, 2018. And by the time this column is published, the shutdown will have lasted over 30 days, setting the record for the longest shutdown in the entire history of the United States.

How on Earth did we get here? Here are the facts:

On Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018, the Senate passed a short-term spending bill that was aimed at avoiding a government shutdown. It was a short-term spending bill as opposed to a long-term one because Republicans and Democrats could not agree on a long-term vision for how to fund our government. But as the Senate bill rolled over to the House, conservative pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter railed against the spending bill, saying it left out designated funding for a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border — a critical campaign promise President Trump had made leading up to election night of 2016. Most notably, Limbaugh and Coulter claimed that if President Trump were to sign the Senate-passed short-term spending bill, it would be the ultimate betrayal to his supporters, who had entrusted President Trump with building that wall.

By mid-afternoon Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018, President Trump made it clear to his base of supporters that he heard them: After calling a meeting with House GOP leaders, President Trump said he would not support the Senate’s short-term spending bill in its current form. This led to a frenzy in Congress as moderate Republicans and centrist Democrats tried to craft something that could appease both sides. But those efforts weren’t enough, and on midnight Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018, the United States federal government entered a shutdown that has lasted ever since.

But in case you were wondering if Republicans and Democrats worked on something over the past 30 days to end the gridlock, your short answer is no. While both political parties have flirted with the idea of a compromise, little to no tangible efforts have been made to reach across the aisle. Instead, Republicans and Democrats have reverted to doing what they know best — playing the blame game: President Trump wagged his finger at the Democrats, saying if the Democrats weren’t so bent on their refusal to fund a border wall — something he claims will “stop the influx of dangerous criminals and drugs into the U.S.” — the country wouldn’t be stuck in a shutdown. Meanwhile, Democrats have countered by saying that President Trump is holding the country hostage for his wall — something they claim is a “third-century solution to a 21st-century problem.”

What’s clear amidst the cheap rhetoric being tossed around, however, is that this tit-for-tat political nonsense isn’t helping anyone. According to the Wall Street Journal, an estimated 420,000 federal employees deemed essential are currently working without pay, while another 380,000 are furloughed — meaning an involuntary temporary leave of absence due to the shutdown. This means that an estimated 800,000 hard-working Americans will have no income for the foreseeable future. Add to that number their spouses, their kids and other dependents, and you’re looking at millions of Americans who will suffer because of the failure of our elected leaders to govern.

Last week, The Washington Post published an editorial detailing the real impact that the shutdown was having on federal workers and their families. They interviewed Daniel Lickey, a 32-year-old native of Utah that works for the Internal Revenue Service, who said that his missing paycheck meant not being able to help his parents, who are raising his special-needs niece and nephew, by sending them money. Similarly, they interviewed 19-year-old IRS worker Tailor Gutierrez who said that a missing paycheck meant eating ramen or white rice rather than meat.

And just this week, The New York Times published an article about furloughed workers who are filing for unemployment benefits to do basic things like buying groceries or paying the rent. They interviewed a single mother, Danielle Miller, who was forced to file for such benefits after giving up hope that the federal government would reopen in the new year. “Once Christmas came and went, after New Year’s, I was like, I can’t go on,” she said in the article.

For the same article, The New York Times also interviewed Steve Reaves, a Federal Emergency Management Agency employee who leads the union for FEMA workers. Reaves spoke on behalf of the union members he represents when he said, “This week [union members] are projecting, ‘What do I need to do this week to pay February’s mortgage and February’s utilities?’”

But these genuine cries for help from real Americans are falling on deaf ears. Politicians seem less concerned with the livelihood of ordinary people than they are about the latest public polling on which side is being blamed. So it follows that the only way for politicians to make a move in ending the shutdown is if public polling gives them an incentive to do so. Until then, we’re likely to remain stuck where we are.

Of course, this is not how our government works. The nature of our democracy gives room to different viewpoints and different policy perspectives, but all of those differing opinions were meant to be disputed and discussed in an open government. So while it’s OK for Democrats to take a stand against policies they disagree with, and it’s OK for President Trump to continue to fighting for the promises he made on the campaign trail, they shouldn’t leave the government — and 800,000 of its employees — in limbo as they have those discussions. Let’s agree to disagree while the government is open. This shutdown has to end now.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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