For the past three weeks, 800,000 civil servants have been forced out of work, in addition to thousands of contractors who, unlike their salaried counterparts, may not see a dime of backpay. Their pain can be acutely felt at pharmacy counters, in grocery store lines, on the desks of mortgage lenders, and in rapidly emptying bank accounts. Rent payments are being missed, heating bills are due, and unfortunately there is no end in sight. This squeeze on America’s civil servants will become the longest in history after this Friday which, coincidentally, will also be the day they miss the first paycheck due to President TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Milley warns of 'Sputnik moment' for China WSJ publishes letter from Trump continuing to allege voter fraud in PA Oath Keeper who was at Capitol on Jan. 6 runs for New Jersey State Assembly MORE’s government shutdown.
Government shutdowns are not a shrewd political tactic, but they’ve become so common under the Trump administration that one might assume they’re the norm. Simply, they are not. Shutdowns are so disruptive to the lives of federal employees -- of whom our government and country ask so much -- that the political consequences alone have been enough to deter administrations and Congresses from ever employing them as strategy. The Trump administration, however, is different.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that an administration that began with the mission statement of deconstructing government would throw federal employees into the lurch three times in two years of governance. It’s no surprise that the president, who looks at federal employees as Democrats, for whom he has great antipathy, who has also set his sights on undermining federal workers' labor protections, cutting their retirement, and cancelling previously-promised, cost-of-living raises, would willingly and proudly push hundreds of thousands of American families into suffering.
The president is using the default setting of government -- open and functioning -- as a hostage in negotiations with Democrats over a wall we have publicly opposed since it was first mentioned in a speech that also identified ‘Mexicans’ as ‘rapists’ and ‘criminals.’ To get this ineffective campaign promise, President Trump is forcing people who, on average, have enough cash in the bank to cover eight days of regular spending to ‘make adjustments’ because he is incapable of governing responsibly.
America needs a president who will serve the people -- all people -- and not just their base. Regular shutdowns cannot be a norm. Civil servants, one-third of whom are veterans, can’t have disruptions to their pay, and the possibility of not receiving back pay, to become part of the job.
This president should also inspire representatives on both sides of the aisle, across all 435 congressional districts to do better by federal employees, many of whom are their constituents. Not only does the demagoguery against government workers need to end, but so too do the actions that accompany it. We must stop gutting federal employees’ ability to collectively bargain, we must ensure they receive proper civil rights protections, and we must give them their scheduled cost-of-living raises when they’re promised.
When we pay federal employees what they’re worth, we can recruit and retain the workforce that the American public needs. The reality right now, however, is that federal employees are worse off today than they were at the start of the decade. Federal employees have had their pay and benefits cut by over $200 billion since 2011, and they are earning nearly 5 percent less today than they did not even ten years ago. Preventing a cost-of-living raise for federal employees during a time of economic prosperity is an insult to those who do the country’s hard work every day, and ultimately makes our government weaker.
The perceived problems with government are not the fault of individual federal employees, but of politicians who are well-served by avoiding problem-solving. It’s a fact that we have a lot of challenges to overcome to ensure our government works better. However, those challenges become a lot harder to solve when we aren’t paying those who will ultimately implement our solutions -- the federal workforce -- the amount they’re worth. Like any private company, a lack of investment in our employees will cause the whole institution to collapse, and there will be no one to blame but those at the top.
Brown is a Democrat who represents Maryland’s 4th District, which is home to more than 50,0000 federal employees.