Before heading back to Washington to continue negotiating terms to end the partial federal government shutdown, Democratic members of Congress Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist shared stories from those most affected.
Gathering in a hallway near Tampa International Airport’s main terminal, union and labor group leaders from the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Aviation Authority and federal prisons, among others, one by one shared harrowing tales of just how dire workers’ financial situations are becoming more than one month after they stopped getting paid.
“I see the stress on what they have to figure out — if they can buy food or medicine or put gas in the tank to come back to work,” commercial airline pilot Mark Weinkrantz said.
Weinkrantz isn’t affected, but he’s irked no less. He said he rides the employee shuttle that takes workers from an off-site parking lot to their posts at the airport each day and he hears from those affected — TSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and air traffic controllers.
Each day the stories get more and more troubling. “TSA workers and the air traffic controllers all function at a very high level of responsibility. We invest in them,” Weinkrantz said.
“We give them dignity because we trust our lives to them and then we turn around and say, ‘you’re not worthy of a paycheck.’ We need them to function at a very high factor because our safety is at stake. We need them to not be distracted by things like, can’t I pay the rent or my kids’ medical bills or can I put gas in the car.”
About 800,000 federal workers are going without pay for the 32nd consecutive day as the shutdown continues with no end in sight. About 800 of those work at the airport and, because they are considered essential personnel, are required to stay on the job despite not receiving a paycheck.
Friday will be the second payday since the shutdown started in late December workers have not received a paycheck.
“This is having a trickle down effect that is making us less safe and it’s a real black eye on America,” Castor said. “We have the capacity and the ability to negotiate. But the bottom line is the government must be opened right away and our public servants must be paid.”
Castor and Crist plan to return to Capital Hill to work with both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives to again pass legislation that would turn the federal government’s lights back on. Despite bipartisan support, President Donald Trump has said he won’t support that. It doesn’t include $5.7 billion for his border wall.
The U.S. Senate is taking another measure crafted based on what Trump says he would support to the floor Tuesday. It would put $5.7 billion toward a physical barrier on the U.S./Mexico border as well as fund increased drug-finding technology at ports, more border patrol agents and immigration judges and, in an effort to garner support from Democrats, would extend legal protection to “dreamers,” immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. It would also provide $13 million a year for disaster relief funding and protect those fleeing humanitarian threats for up to three years.
Castor called the bill an effort to provide political cover for Trump.
“He’s the one that ripped the protections away from our dreamers. He’s the one that ripped immigration protections away from our neighbors that came after the earthquake in Haiti,” Castor said. “If he would go back to the bipartisan package of last year that had been negotiated to provide a path to citizenship, that would be a meaningful way to negotiate.”
Asked whether they would consider the bill in the House if it gained support in the Senate, which is unlikely, Castor deferred to Crist.
“If it got 60 votes, that would be pretty incredible,” Crist said. “If that does happen, I think that would be an opportunity. But let’s see.”
Responding to a question about Congressional pay during the shutdown, Crist and Castor admitted they are still getting paid.
There’s been criticism from both the political left and right arguing members of Congress shouldn’t be getting paid while lower-level workers who can least absorb the impacts of lost pay aren’t.
Freshman New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has become a firebrand among America’s progressive left, tweeted the same day the Government partially shut down that “it’s completely unacceptable that members of Congress can force a government shutdown on partisan lines and then have Congressional salaries exempt from that decision.”
Next time we have a gov shutdown, Congressional salaries should be furloughed as well.
It’s completely unacceptable that members of Congress can force a government shutdown on partisan lines & then have Congressional salaries exempt from that decision.
Have some integrity. https://t.co/BgueNNjf0f
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) December 22, 2018
While that’s a noble sentiment, it’s not possible. Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress sets its own pay and that cannot be changed for the current Congress. That means it would take an act of Congress to halt members’ pay, but such a pause in salary distribution could not take effect until the next Congress convenes in nearly two years.
Still, Castor said she would do what little she could as a working American still receiving a paycheck by making a charitable contribution to the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. That group, like many others who provide assistance for victims of domestic abuse, is also at risk of losing financial resources because they gain much of their operating budget through federal grants.
Castor did not say how much she would be contributing to that cause.