One doesn’t need to be a furloughed government worker to notice the effects of the partial government shutdown, which is now in its 28th day, having bested the previous record for a shutdown by a week.
The shutdown’s impact was immediately felt by about 800,000 federal workers, most of whom have already missed one paycheck. About half of those, deemed essential, have continued to work without pay. And while government employees will receive back pay when the shutdown ends, many others who have been idled by the shutdown, including government contractors, will simply never see that once-anticipated income. And small businesses, such as restaurants that serve federal workers, won’t recoup what they’ve lost to the shutdown.
And just as some won’t recoup lost pay, we’re also beginning to see examples where the shutdown is causing hardships and lost opportunities that will continue long after the shutdown ends, effects that grow with each passing day.
The Lummi Nation and others concerned with the health of the state’s Southern Resident orca whale pods have been preparing a response to help two ailing killer whales, but have been unable to coordinate their efforts with scientists and officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who would have to approve any such effort, The Seattle Times reported Thursday.
The shutdown also has stopped work on training and preparation for this year’s wildfire season, public radio’s Northwest News Network reported Thursday, not just by U.S. Forest Service employees but for those paid by Washington, Oregon and other western states.
“We rely significantly on state funding for resources,” Washington Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz told Northwest News. “But we also rely on federal funding, not only on funding to support our own firefighting efforts, but also, we fight our fires in lockstep partnership with federal agencies.”
Already, a national wildfire training course scheduled for next week in Oregon has been canceled. And the cooler, wetter winter months are when much of the management work of clearing and thinning and controlled burns on federal lands — which makes up a third of the land in Washington state and nearly half the land in Oregon — are scheduled.
There’s no small irony in the tweet by President Trump last week in which he said he had ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to withhold further disaster recovery funds from California wildfire victims, unless state officials “get their act together” on forest management.
Like Washington and Oregon, much of the public land in California — 45.6 million acres of forestland — is managed by the federal government. And the shutdown is now creating a situation that will set back actual forestland management and wildfire preparation work that cannot be caught up before the start of this year’s wildfire season.
Elsewhere, trash is piling up in national parks that have attempted to stay open through the use of gate revenue. In other parks, a lack of rangers has allowed vandalism to destroy natural treasures, including Joshua Tree National Park’s namesake trees, cut down to allow passage for unauthorized off-road vehicles.
While federal food-stamp benefits still are being paid for now, those funds are less certain should the shutdown stretch past February.
The closure of federal immigration courts has meant that those who were scheduled for hearings regarding work permit requests and other issues, have been sent to the end of the line, adding three years to their wait for a court date.
Perhaps realizing the unpopularity of the shutdown and its widespread effects, President Trump is attempting to broaden the definition of “essential worker,” calling back some 50,000 federal workers — still unpaid — including IRS staff to begin processing income tax returns so rebate checks are not delayed.
But President Trump’s attempt to cushion the impact of the shutdown ultimately could delay its end. The point behind a shutdown is to use that pain as leverage, betting that the other side will get the blame and will blink, or counting on the effects to be forgotten eventually. The longer the shutdown goes on, however, the less likely this shutdown will be quickly forgotten.
Polls are showing that many are holding President Trump to his pledge to “take the mantle” of the shutdown, assigning him responsibility for the furloughs in his demand for $5.7 billion in funding for a border wall and other security measures.
Democrats have reason to stand firm against Trump’s demand, not the least of which is the danger of allowing the president to believe that future shutdowns would be an acceptable way for him to get whatever “deal” he demands.
But further inaction by Congress could soon begin to turn public opinion against Democrats and Republicans, alike. House and Senate need to negotiate an agreement that — rather than sticking with each side’s positions — finds the common interests in border security and fair reforms for immigration.
Any deal Congress finds that offers a compromise and ends the shutdown would be rejected by Trump at his own political peril.
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