Illustration by Cecile Smith
By SRINIVAS BALAGOPAL
Editorial & Web Editor
The divisive nature of U.S. politics between Democrats and Republicans was exemplified in the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.
During the partial government shutdown from Dec. 22, 2018, to Jan. 25, 2019, President Donald Trump and members of Congress engaged in a debacle over funding for a wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico. A key promise on the Trump campaign trail, the wall required $5.7 billion, a sum that House Democrats refused to accept.
The wall is a “19th century solution to a 21st century problem,” contended Democratic Senator Dick Durbin on Meet the Press.
On Jan. 25, Trump unveiled a stopgap deal with Congressional leaders to end the shutdown for three weeks until Feb. 15, while workers would be compensated for their lost salaries. In the meantime, a bipartisan committee will review options for border spending.
Further fueling the political fire during the shutdown, Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi argued about the State of the Union. Although the President is traditionally invited by the Speaker of the House to deliver the annual speech, Pelosi refused to do so, in light of the shutdown.
“I look forward to welcoming you to the House on a mutually agreeable date for this address when government has been opened,” Pelosi wrote to the President on Jan. 23.
Shortly afterward, Trump agreed to deliver the State of the Union after the government had been reopened. The mutually-agreed date for the speech is Feb. 5.
Beyond the administrative turmoil, the shutdown affected approximately 800,000 federal workers, 420,000 of whom were working without pay, while 380,000 had been furloughed. As of Jan. 25, federal employees missed two paychecks, the first of which represented an overall cost of $2.2 billion in consumer spending, according to CNBC.
Nine out of the 15 federal departments were impacted since the shutdown. For example, for every two weeks with a missed salary, the Department of Homeland Security lost $637 million with 85.3 percent of employees working without pay, while the Department of Justice lost $413 million with 84 percent working without pay.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the shutdown cost the economy $11 billion, almost double the proposed cost of the border wall, $5.7 billion.
Throughout the 35 financially-straining days, workers staged protests and sit-ins on Capitol Hill. Haley Hernandez U.S. Coast Guard employee had relied on free lunch programs food stamps for her family.
“You would think that [the government] would take better care of their service members,” Hernandez had stated exasperatedly.
According president of the FBI Agents Association Tom O’Connor, even the nation’s security could very well be at stake with a lack of financial stability for the Bureau.
“Federal agents across the nation [were] being prevented from doing their jobs and that [placed] all of us at risk,” agrees John Cohen, former acting undersecretary of the DHS.
Furthermore, the Transportation Security Administration saw a 7.5 percent decrease in airport screening agents, likely due to the 50,000 officers who would have been missing paychecks.
This development has called into question the safety of air-travel systems during the shutdown.
There had been a “growing concern for the safety and security of our members, our airlines, and the traveling public,” three national airline associations noted in a joint statement.
“[Trump] has chosen a wall over workers,” Pelosi stated.
Agencies and employees alike continue to wait on tenterhooks to see a bipartisan agreement on the issue of border security, which threw the country into political and economic turmoil.