This column is written by U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-8) and does not necessarily represent the views of Covering The Corridor.
Today, I start a new series with a column on government shutdowns. This is a topic that Virginia’s 8th congressional district knows well. We know better than most the stupidity of these shutdowns and of the profound ripple effects they have across families and businesses, and upon morale.
The longest shutdown in American history ended on January 25, after 35 days of uncertainty. During the shutdown, over 800,000 federal employees missed paychecks, rent payments, medical procedures, and experienced every other deprivation that came with 35 days of no pay.
The shutdown began on December 22 over the President’s demands for $5.7 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Regardless of the President’s campaign promise or insistence on the affordability of this idea, a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said the wall could cost somewhere between $27 billion and $40 billion. In addition to its exorbitant cost, the border wall would be detrimental to the economy. A research paper drafted by economists of Dartmouth College and Stanford University found that the wall would cost the U.S economy $4 billion annually as a byproduct of the reduction of Mexican migrant workers.
Ultimately, the President agreed to the same deal Speaker Pelosi had offered him in December. Had the President agreed to the deal in December 2018, he would have spared the country billions of taxpayer dollars. And yet, despite all of this damage, he may be steering the country towards yet another shutdown.
President Trump is the only president in history to furlough hundreds of thousands of federal employees while his party controlled both chambers of Congress. About 380,000 Americans were on furlough and an additional 420,000 required to work without pay.
To protect and assist those affected, I worked with my Democratic and Republican colleagues on legislation to minimize the economic blowback on northern Virginia households. I introduced the Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act, which would guarantee back pay to federal employees. The Senate passed the companion version of this bill and the President signed it into law on January 16. Recognizing the adverse effects on federal contractors as well, I was a co-sponsor of the Low-Wage Federal Contractor Employee Back Pay Act of 2019 and the Fair Compensation for Low-Wage Contractor Employees Act of 2019, both aimed at back paying low-wage federally contracted workers.
I was also a co-lead of the Financial Relief for Feds Act, which would allow federal employees and contractors to withdraw funds from their retirement accounts without being penalized. Further, I was an original cosponsor of the Federal Worker Childcare Protection Act, which would reimburse federal employees working without pay for childcare during the shutdown.
Lastly, a number of my Virginia colleagues joined me in sending a letter urging the Administration to prohibit agencies from penalizing security clearance applicants and holders for poor credit induced by the shutdown – since the primary cause of security clearance denials is some kind of financial hiccup by the applicant.
The President and Congress ought to be able to resolve differences without threatening to damage the country. That is why I introduced the End Shutdowns Act, with companion legislation offered by Sen. Tim Kaine in the Senate.
The End Shutdowns Act would set up a process by which, in the case of a lapse in appropriations, an automatic “continuing resolution” would kick in to fund the government temporarily at the same level. No other legislation would be allowed to move through the House until the House enacted a long-term, fully inclusive appropriation bill for that year. (The bill also provides an exception for emergency legislation to be considered during such a period – but “emergencies” would have to be mutually agreed upon and deemed as such by the Speaker and Minority Leader.) Under this legislation, the government would never close its doors again.
The time has come to permanently end the threat of future shutdowns. It is the responsibility of Congress and the President to effectively work together to fund the government in a timely manner, protect federal employees and Americans, and keep our government running efficiently..