Dispatch from Federal Workers’ Protest: Government Shutdown Day 4

Photo Oct 04, 12 06 15 PM

On the morning of the fourth day of the U.S. government shutdown, Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and hundreds of union and non-union federal workers came to the Capitol to protest. Some traveled from faraway states like South Carolina and Florida, and they represented various departments of the government, such as the U.S. Treasury, IRS, Departments  of Commerce, Education and Defense, the Food and Drug Administration, and NASA. Scientists, analysts, technicians, park landscapers, drivers, and inspectors continue on an indefinite furlough.

At the rally Colleen Kelly, president of National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), spoke about the need for federal workers to get back to work–for their families and the millions of people who depend on vital government services. Other speakers demanded Congress put aside differences and pass a balanced budget to put 850,000 people back to work.

As the week progressed, federal workers became less reluctant to picket the U.S. Capitol while Congress continued to be embroiled in the budget debate. The international press was there recording the spectacle. Continue reading

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Dispatch from Federal Workers’ Protest: All Hell Breaks Loose at the Capitol

Photo Oct 03, 3 21 18 PM

Thursday was the third day of our U.S. Federal Government shutdown protest, which drew far more protestors and media than before. But the peace at our protest ended abruptly at 2:20 pm.

I heard sirens and saw six police cruisers chasing a black Infiniti down Pennsylvania  Ave. past the reflecting pool towards us. At first I thought it was an escort but then realized it was a chase.

The driver was trying to evade police, but rammed into the barricades at the West Lawn in an attempt to come up the sidewalk toward the Capitol.

The car backed up, hitting a cruiser. As if it were a movie, the police pulled guns and fired 5, 10, 15 rounds at the driver’s window. The tinted glass blew out, but the car turned around and fled back towards Pennsylvania Ave. I heard what I thought was an explosion from behind the trees. It turned out to be a collision with a cruiser.

Within seconds, the U.S. Capitol emergency announcement system warned us to evacuate the grounds. I thought it was a terrorist attack. My heart pounded. Continue reading

Dispatch from Federal Workers’ Protest: Government Shutdown Day 2

Defund_congress

We returned to the Capitol steps for the second day of the government shutdown. We carried the same signs and spoke the same message, but there were changes from the previous day. Some Capitol Police officers expressed solidarity with our cause, and tourists joined our protest. Both police and tourists are being affected by the shutdown.

A Capitol Police guard walked up to me and jokingly said, “Keep one of those signs for me, I may join you next week.” Surprised, I asked him if he was for real. He said he was dissatisfied because he was working but without pay, a “mission essential employee” caught between the power players in the marble building above him he was guarding.

I asked another cop if he was being paid and he said no, they had to work but they’d have to wait for backpay. “People are getting a little salty around here,” he said. “I may need to take your dollar after this week,” referring to the dollar bill I had taped over my mouth.

All day I watched the police come and go with less suspicion than usual. It felt strange to consider them brethen in the shutdown, although they are. I regarded them with a kind of respect. Here they were guarding the U.S. Capitol from people like us, peaceful protestors (protesting on their behalf too), while the members of Congress they protected discussed our fates. Capitol Police were not getting paid for it, yet they reported to work anyway. Of all the ironies I’ve heard this week, this was one of the most contemptible. Continue reading

Dispatch from Federal Workers’ Protest: Government Shutdown Day 1

On October 1, the first day of the government shutdown, I joined 50 federal workers in an impromptu all-day protest at the U.S. Capitol. Just hours before, we were indefinitely suspended from our jobs. We reported to work, signed papers acknowledging the furlough and left. We had been preparing for a shutdown for several days, so wasn’t a surprise. It’s the second time I’ve been furloughed this year. The first time was due to the sequester.

The few of us who went to the Capitol didn’t know what to expect. I went there thinking I would be the only one to show up. Several others showed up with the same mindset: disgusted and worried about how being effectively unemployed would affect us.

Most carried signs to express their frustration, but I taped a dollar bill over my mouth as a metaphor for what I believe is the root cause of problems in our government. I believe that money has silenced the voices of reason, voices which should serve as the basis for a functional government. Continue reading

Government Shutdown, Another Episode in “Budget Wars”

At the stroke of midnight on October 1, the workings of the U.S. government will grind to a halt. That is, unless a deeply dysfunctional Congress fuels it with yet another stopgap measure to tide it over for a couple of months.

Technically, when the fiscal year runs out on September 30, the government doesn’t have the legal authority to spend money unless the House and Senate agree on an appropriations bill and the President signs it.

The Republican party is using the budget process to attack the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare–a bill so nauseating to them that the Republican-controlled House has voted to repeal it forty times.

Their latest blackmail offer is to withhold funding unless Obamacare’s individual mandate–a requirement that certain people purchase health insurance–is delayed by one year.

President Obama and Democrats, however, are blasting the GOP for holding the country hostage to their radically conservative base. They are pushing for a “clean” Continuing Resolution. The Senate is certain to reject spending bills with healthcare funding conditions. The clock is ticking. A shutdown is bound to ensue. Continue reading

Congress comes up with money to end Defense Department furloughs

DoD_sealSecretary of Defense Chuck Hagel issued a memorandum today effectively ending the furloughs of hundreds of thousands of Department of Defense civilian employees in mid-August. Mandatory one-day-a-week leave of the civilian work force will end five weeks earlier than scheduled–as well as their corresponding twenty percent pay cut.

The furloughs were implemented in June as a Department-wide cost-cutting measure to cover a $11 billion shortfall because of the sequester, sweeping automatic budget cuts resulting from Congressional indecision. Active duty military considered to be part of the “war effort” were exempt from the furloughs, while 800,000 civil servants have been affected.

At first, civilian employees were told to expect 14 days of unpaid leave starting in May. Later the furloughs were downgraded to 11 days from July 8 to mid-September. Hagel’s announcement reduces them further to a total of six days.

According to Secretary Hagel, furloughs were among “limited options” to “close [the] gap” in the budget shortfall. Unsurprisingly, the twenty percent cut in pay resulting from the furloughs and its unequal application has caused dissension among the ranks.

Yet the constraints imposed by the Congressional sequester seem to have had more flexibility than anticipated, and the Department of Defense appears to have come up with some money as well. In the memo, Hagel writes:

Congress has approved most of a large reprogramming request that we submitted in mid-May, giving us flexibility to move funds across accounts. The military services have been aggressive in identifying ways to hold down costs, and we have been successful in shifting savings (including furlough savings) to meet our highest priority needs.

A memorandum Hagel issued earlier this week indicated that furloughs may be proposed again next year, or for as long as five years, in order to bring the bloated Defense budget in line with the President’s plan for reduction.

The odds are high for furloughs continuing under a sequester next year as Congress has yet to pass a balanced budget, opting to allocate funds on the basis of continuing resolutions. The $85 billion sequester reductions are the result of a Congress unable to agree on how much to cut government spending or where the cuts should be made.

Sequester has affected government services in a variety of sectors. In April, air traffic controllers were furloughed for several weeks, resulting in significant delays in air travel. The Friday before Congress was to travel home for spring break, they voted to approve a last minute re-allocation of $253 million from funds the FAA already had in another account.

The sequester also slashed budgets for Federal Parks, Head Start early education, Meals on Wheels, public defenders and many other services in which civil servants have had their hours reduced.

Thanks, Super Committee!

Image by DonkeyHotey/Flickr

The massive automatic budget cuts known as sequestration take effect today, March 1. We should take a moment to thank those responsible for bringing Baby Sequester into the world: the Super Committee.

The United States Congress Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, aka the Super Congress, aka the Super Committee, is a one of the outcomes of the debt-ceiling “crisis” orchestrated to distract U.S. citizens from the lack of jobs, rising cost of living and rampant corporate/government corruption.

Yes, this goes back to the August 2011 faux crisis when Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling to pay off obligations that the government (aka Congress) had already incurred. To stave off disaster, a group of a dozen Senators and Congressmen put their heads together and… couldn’t agree on anything.

The reason we are facing the sequestration is because the “Super Committee” that was formed to come up with $1.2 trillion of more carefully targeted spending cuts failed to do its one job. The irony is that at the time of the Super Committee’s formation, it was widely believed that the sequestration was an awesome idea that would totally guarantee the Super Committee’s success. By hanging the sequestration over everyone’s heads like the Sword of Damocles, they reasoned, the members of the Super Committee would be Super Motivated to reach a Super Agreement. 

A year and a half later, Congress still can’t agree on basic fiscal policy. The Sword of Damocles has struck.

Be sure to thank Super Committee members today!

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), now Secretary of State
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), retired
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Co-Chair
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA)
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA)
Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI)
Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC)
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Co-Chair
Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI)
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)

(h/t DonkeyHotey)