A Grapple Between Congress and Trump as Federal Employees Take the Hit

THE GOVERNMENT PARTIALLY SHUT DOWN after the Senate did not grant $5 billion for President Donald Trump’s infamous border wall in a spending bill on Friday, December 21st. The country now nears its third week in a government shutdown, and as “nonessential” federal employees are not being paid, the struggle between the President and Congress has affected everyday people.

According to the Associated Press, a bipartisan bill was approved in the Senate a few days earlier that would provide a temporary solution for funding, but it did not include the requested sum of money for the wall. The House added $5 billion to the bill to fulfill Trump’s border wall spending requirements, but this was blocked by the Senate, leading the government to a standstill.

Despite his previous claims that Mexico would pay for the wall, President Trump has redirected that responsibility to the United States and refuses to back down without $5 billion allocated in a spending bill. Though several funding bills have previously passed without conflict regarding the wall, Trump has decided that this is his final stand.

Congress has since worked to end the shutdown, but to no avail, as Trump refuses to sign a bill without funding for the border wall. As the newly convened 116th Congress met for the first time on January 3 of the new year, the newly Democrat-controlled House was quick to create and approve a new spending bill that would fund the government until the end of September, and approved another measure that would fund the Department of Homeland Security until February, as reported by NBC News. However, the Senate, which still holds a Republican majority, was not willing to cooperate. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader and a Republican from Kentucky, will not send the bills to the floor for a vote. The White House communicated that if the bill did pass in the Senate, President Trump would veto it.

In a televised meeting with Democratic leaders on December 11 discussing the funding of the wall, Trump said that he is “proud to shut down the government for border security” and has continued to insist that he is steadfast in his goal to obtain funding for the border wall. However, he recently contradicted this boldness, claiming that “it’s really the Democrats’ shutdown,” and leaves the threat of a “very long shutdown” looming over the heads of members of Congress and the general public as he refuses to compromise on funding for the wall.

Many Americans, especially Democrats, are tired of this insubstantial rhetoric and call for an end to the shutdown over such an issue. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer refuses to give in to the pressure, stating that “the Trump temper tantrum will shut down the government, but will not get him his wall.”

While it is easy to just focus on the border dispute in regards to Congress and the President, many everyday citizens are feeling the worst effects of the shutdown. Though members of Congress are still receiving compensation, 800,000 lower-level federal employees are on unpaid leave or are working without pay, a difficult situation for many workers living paycheck to paycheck. Most federal spending has already been budgeted, but the several agencies that are not yet funded, about a quarter of the federal government, are forced to halt operations with the shutdown. Nine departments have been so affected.

Some of the most notable repercussions of the shutdown have been its effects on national parks, museums, security, and law enforcement agencies. Residents and visitors of Washington D.C. have shared photos of overflowing garbage cans throughout the city against the backdrop of famous historical monuments, as sanitation workers are currently furloughed.

Both national museums and the National Zoo are closed, including all of the Smithsonian Museums and the National Gallery of Art, The New York Times reports. Many law enforcement officials are also out of work, including employees of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, and judiciary workers. The federal court system has slowed, with immigration hearings taking the hardest hit as courts have closed.

National parks throughout the country have been operating with limited staff or have closed their doors completely as workers go without pay. In addition to extinguishing visitors’ plans, the shutdown has had dangerous consequences in said parks. At least three people have died on national parks’ land since it began. According to Outside Magazine, a man fell into a river at Yosemite National Park in California on December 25 and later died from a head injury he sustained from the accident. While he received medical attention quickly inside the park, the incident was slow to be reported. Andrew Muñoz, the supervisory public affairs officer for the National Park Service, told Outside, “A news release wasn’t issued because of the shutdown,” as the investigation took longer than usual due to the limited staffing.

Many workers for the Transportation Security Administration, who screen baggage and passengers at airports, have been calling out sick after having to work without pay. An anonymous federal official told The Times that this is part of a coordinated protest, but union officials say the call-outs are more likely a result of TSA agents trying to find temporary employment elsewhere to cover their loss of wages. Regular airport security screenings have maintained, but wait times for passengers will increase if more workers continue to call out sick.

In addition to the several areas of government that are already compromised by the shutdown, many more will be affected in the coming weeks if the government isn’t reopened. Many agencies risk running out of the funding currently sustaining them if the shutdown does not come to a close. For the employees that are already without pay, their paycheck was issued on Friday showing a dollar amount of $0.00.

Despite the harm the shutdown is bringing to government workers and the increasing public pressure, the future seems uncertain. Senate Democrats have since blocked a bill on policy in the Middle East as a protest of the shutdown, and consider continuing to block bills until it ends. Meanwhile, Trump steadily demands funding for the border wall and has threatened to declare a national emergency in order to fund the wall. If Trump does not loosen his grip, the government shutdown could continue indefinitely, or emergency funding could be allocated to its construction.

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