Standing in solidarity with federal workers’ union leaders, the complete complement of Rhode Island Congressional delegates joined at T.F. Green Monday morning to denounce the ongoing government shutdown – now the longest shutdown in the country’s history – and implore Senate Republicans to bring bills that would end the impasse forward for a vote.
“It's day 24 of the shutdown, and 800,000 federal workers remain unsure if they're going to be able to pay their rent, be able to pay their mortgage, utilities, student loans, medical bills, or even put food on the table,” said Rep. James Langevin. “That's flat out wrong and it needs to change.”
This past Friday marked the first payday that federal workers affected by the partial shutdown were not compensated for their work. Locally, the shutdown has affected everyone from TSA agents and “non-essential” air traffic control employees at Green, to small craft beer companies that are unable to secure permits for new product labels.
However Langevin, and Ward 7 City Councilman Stephen McAllister – who is also the regional representative for the United States Chamber of Commerce – warn that the shutdown is affecting many more businesses in ways that are harder to quantify.
“We have members from across the country, including Rhode Island, and we are hearing every day about how the shutdown has a major impact on their businesses,” McAllister said, adding that businesses are having difficulty raising capital, people seeking mortgages are experiencing delays and travel has become hampered with TSA employees being furloughed. “Every day that the shutdown happens, it's more unstable for the business community and that's why the Chamber wants to see it end as soon as possible.”
Further, small businesses will find it unlikely to get business loans through the Small Business Association, as it is not operating during the shutdown. Contracting companies that have done work for the federal government may not be receiving payment for work already done. Businesses or municipalities applying for federal grants may also be affected.
“Small businesses and families buying homes are being affected by the shutdown,” said Langevin. “Nutrition assistance programs will soon run dry and tax refunds may be delayed or not paid in full. This is only going to continue to get worse unless the Trump shutdown ends now.”
Representing both air traffic controllers who have worked nearly a month without being paid and those who have been deemed non-essential and sent home on furlough without pay, Peter Geddis, president of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, spoke about how a prolonged shutdown will expound on issues already being experienced by the Federal Aviation Administration and result in more headaches for American travelers.
“Nationally the FAA is at a 30-year low for fully certified controllers,” he said. “This shutdown has halted hire of controllers, the FAA academy has closed and training has come to a halt...This government shutdown will only exacerbate a staffing crisis, which will lead to reduced capacity in the National Airspace System, meaning more flight delays.”
Rep. David Cicilline said the shutdown was “senseless” and was costing taxpayers as much as $1 billion each week in economical impact that the government isn’t operating as intended.
“This has real consequences, not only on lives of public servants and federal workers, but on our economy and obviously our long-term prosperity,” Cicilline said.
The Congressional delegates each took turns assigning blame both to President Trump, who has refused to sign bills that would re-open the government that don’t provide what he deems to be adequate funding to build a wall along the Mexican border, and Senate Republicans, who have in the past two weeks failed to bring forward other bills – that include funding levels agreed upon by Republicans – which would partially reopen the government and enable more discussion on the border issue.
“These were the Republican-passed bills. They were passed unanimously in the Senate. We didn't change them, we didn't add stuff. We passed those bills and [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell said he won't take them up because the president has opposed them,” Cicilline said. “It's time the Senate Republican leadership recognizes they don't work for the President of the United States, they work for their constituents, and they ought to reopen the government.”
Others called out McConnell in more pointed terms.
“This ends when Republican Senators put enough pressure on Leader McConnell that he does his job and brings these bills to the Senate for a vote,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who referred to McConnell as the “Punxsutawney Phil” of the shutdown. “It's time for our Republican colleagues to root him out of his hole before we get to actual Groundhog Day and let the Senate do its business.”
The centerpiece of the whole disagreement – funding for a supposed border wall – was ridiculed once more by the all-Democratic delegation.
“This is a senseless shutdown and it is, by the way, not about border security,” Cicilline said. “To be very clear, we have appropriated $1.7 billion in border security over the last two years. The Department of Homeland Security has spent about 6 percent of that money. We're prepared to do more because we recognize we need to do more. But we want to do it in a smart, cost-effective way that actually achieves the objective – using drones and satellites and border inspections and more personnel – things that will actually secure our border, rather than spending money on a wasteful, $70 billion, 1,000-mile concrete wall.”
“Remember, it was going to be paid for by the Mexicans. I don't know what happened, they don't seem to be paying for it,” said Senator Jack Reed. “It's a campaign slogan. We have never seen a detailed plan for those portions of the border that should have a wall or a fence or remote sensors, et cetera. Until we see such a plan, should we in good conscious and in good faith to the American people appropriate $5 billion for a bumper sticker, a presidential bumper sticker? I don't think so.”
In perhaps the most outwardly critical message of the morning, George Nee, president of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO union praised the state’s representatives and the country’s federal employees for their responsible actions and decried the actions, or lack thereof, of the president.
“This is beyond comprehension that we could be in this kind of situation,” Nee said. “It's also an example of adult behavior and doing your job, where the federal employees show up because they have a sense of responsibility and commitment to our country, as opposed to childish behavior, which is being exemplified by the president of the United States, who is acting like a petulant child.”