As the federal government inched toward shutting down, large numbers of federal employees learned which of them are considered essential.
A story in the Friday Washington Post said that 75 percent of the Capitol staff were told not to report during a shutdown.
The remainder ... would be needed for limited food service, restroom cleaning and mechanical emergencies. But they wouldnt necessarily be paid: After Congress restarted the government, it would have to approve back pay.
Thats a revealing statement for a government to make: Please clean our toilets; we promise to pay you after weve used you to make our political points. Err, probably. Maybe.
Most low-wage workers dont have big savings accounts. A delayed paycheck can make the difference between eating and not. A payday loan to buy groceries and pay utility bills diverts future earnings into interest payments and can begin a harsh and almost inescapable cycle.
Ironically, many of the employees whose jobs warrant larger paychecks are not considered essential, at least over the short term. Many of them may be in a better position to enjoy a few days off without worrying about ending up homeless. Still, more than a few better-paid federal employees are no doubt living from paycheck to paycheck.
Its no wonder, then, that more than a few federal employees suggested that Congress should forego paychecks during any future shutdown. Some analysts immediately argued that would be unconstitutional, but theres no law that prevents legislators from refusing their salaries. Nor are they prevented from pooling funds to ensure that the invisible workers who haul trash, answer phones and keep computer networks running dont run out of money while their bosses bicker.
Lawmaker wages are a minute fraction of the budget, but so are many of the other items over which lawmakers and their constituents are arguing. Eliminating Planned Parenthood wont balance the federal budget; neither will eliminating the projects so euphemistically called pork. To solve the actual problem which is not particularly closely related to the problem either party would like voters to believe they have Congress needs to make fundamental changes in the role of government in this nation.
Thats not easy to do because no one wants to tackle the big budget sectors. There are many reasons not to: Those agencies keep people alive, safe, employed, and the United States needs that. It needs to be able to do it indefinitely, which is why revenue and expenses need to be reconciled, and few in Congress (with the possible exception of Ryan Paul) have any appetite for that.
One reason they dont is that their constituents dont either. They are as dependent as anyone else on the role the federal government plays in their lives. Few citizens object to government or could identify much to cut; they just want affordable government that works for them. Pulling federal payroll dollars out of their economies, even for a few days, doesnt aid them.
While Southwest Colorado hardly resembles Washington in the percentage of government employees in its population, the federal payroll here is hardly unnoticeable, nor is the work it funds irrelevant. It would be missed, some of it almost instantly and almost all of it before very long. Congress should find a way of posturing, now and in the future, that doesnt include hostages. Budgets always get passed eventually; from now on, do it without yanking workers around.