Findng equality in a federal shutdown

Alan Duff

Last Friday, the threat of a government shutdown loomed over half a million federal employees considered to be “non-essential.” Many “essential” federal employees also had to wonder if their next paycheck was coming, or when. Why Congress is considered “essential” during a government shutdown is baffling, and frankly insulting to thousands of federal workers who would go without pay for weeks.

When I first heard the news that the United States government would have to initiate a shutdown if the budget issues couldn’t be solved by midnight of the 8th, visions of a decaying Rome filled my mind. The sun seemed to be setting at last on the United States; our time was up, proving that if history is anything, it is cyclical.

Fortunately I decided to research what actually happens in the event of a shutdown before I started stocking up on food and gasoline. As it turns out, shutdowns are nothing new for the United States government. Multiple shutdowns have occurred throughout the last 40 years during budget crisis. The most recent shutdown in 1995 lasted 21 days before things returned to normalcy.

Along with Congress’ attempts to balance the budget, last week was filled with voices of congressional representatives trying to pass a payroll plan for the military. Groups around the United States were outraged that if a shutdown occurred United States military personnel were going to be paid only once the budget was figured out, and then in back pay. Congress drew massive amounts of criticism because members would be paid while our troops were overseas working.

The critics had a point; I would rather pay the military during a government shutdown than a Congress that was sitting around twiddling its thumbs. However, the media did forget about another 800,000 federal workers who weren’t going to be paid at all in the event of a shutdown. Why was it just the troops that were defended? Congress and the Military aren’t the only ones on the government payroll — the real emphasis here should be on equality.

Policies should be enacted in the United States so that in the event of a shutdown we can ensure that all “essential” federal workers are paid in the same way. There should be no bias here. If one group gets their paycheck on time, all should. When one type of employee gets special treatment we single them out and create a quasi-nobility — something our Constitution does not allow.

Furthermore, Congress should have an incentive to work toward a balanced budget by not receiving any form of paycheck if a shutdown is necessary. Shutdowns shouldn’t be paid vacations for Congress.

Though the United States didn’t experience a federal shutdown, the issues raised regarding “essential” workers are still relevant and should be addressed. I encourage Lawrentians to send a letter to their congressional representative asking for congress to be considered “non-essential” during government shutdowns. Just because the Democrats and the Republicans are still pointing fingers at each other doesn’t mean they have to be paid for it.