Friday, January 11, 2019

MoCo Hunkers Down

You hear the number 800,000 federal employees out of work, but it is a little more complicated than that. More than half of those are still going to work, even though they are not being paid for it. Note that being forced to work without pay is known, normally, as "slavery."

Lots of federal employees are not working. They are hoping their pay will be reimbursed, as it always has in past shutdowns, but there is no guarantee. A couple of weeks ago the President canceled their scheduled pay raise for 2019. And now, imagine how his base will love him when he says, "Why should they be paid for not doing anything?" They love to hate federal employees, depicted as a bunch of lazy bureaucrats burning up taxpayers' hard-earned dollars doing nothing. The President's following would be happy if he could cancel furlough back-pay.

Mortgage is due on the first, Pepco wants their share, the bank wants your car payment. You want your gas to stay on. Today is payday on the calendar but there isn't going to be any pay. The zero-dollar pay-stub is today's Internet meme.

And contractors have it the worst. In a lot of agencies contractors run all the IT, they are the programmers, editors, subject-matter experts, help desk, security, building operations and cleaning people, and they know they aren't going to be paid. This shutdown is a pure loss for most of them. Hopefully they understood the risks and put some money away when they took the gig, because they are only going to go deeper into the hole, the longer this thing drags on. I have not seen any numbers for contractors affected, so far. I don't know if anybody knows how many there are. In the past couple of decades the government has tried to save money by replacing federal employees with contractors, but I don't see the numbers out there, and they don't get mentioned in most discussions of the effects of this shutdown.

Our little county in Maryland is full of people who work for the federal government, either as federal employees or contractors. Most of us have been through this before, but this time is different. There was always a sense of process, an understanding that the two sides were going to work out an agreement and we would all get back to work and everything would be fine. You could never treat a shutdown like a vacation because, one, you never knew when they would call you back, and two, you really were not getting paid in the meantime, so you couldn't spend anything. And now three, you don't know if Trump is going to try to block pay for your furlough time. A lot of us don't have a ton of savings -- a GS job is pretty good but it's is not, let's say, the golden path to wealth. I used to say the best thing about working for the government was the stability.

So here in Montgomery County we are feeling the brunt of this foolishness. I tend to agree with those who are saying that Trump doesn't even really want a wall. He is just trying to keep the attention away from his own catastrophes. You notice the news surrounding the Mueller investigation has a lot of Russian names in it these days, and the idea that there was "no collusion" is not even mentioned any more. Trump can't do anything about the legal troubles that are about to rain down on his criminal organization, but he has always been good at manipulating the public perceptions of people who are not really paying attention. The wall, the shutdown, this will keep Mueller off the front pages. I don't think he'll make it through this term. The question now is the "President Pence" problem. Well, we'll see how tightly he is interwoven with Manafort. Maybe they'll be cellmates. I really doubt President Pelosi will pardon either of them.

Figure with contractors and other federal support, a million people are being directly hit by unemployment at this point, never mind the cascading effects of money those out-of-work people aren't spending in their communities. This is all to support the vanity of one sad man whose life of corruption unfortunately landed him in the White House. When he says he "relates" and says the federal workforce will adapt and be okay, it is clear he has no idea how widespread the damage is. His own sense of self-importance is so magnified that real people with real bills are like ants to him.

And it's not just the plight of the federal workforce -- it's also the work that they do. Right now, research projects are stopped, federal law enforcement is stripped down to a minimum, the weather models are not maintained, economic models, trade policy, the courts are running out of money, food isn't being inspected, the statistics that measure progress and decline in the population and the economy, the parks are going to hell, infrastructure maintenance, fire prevention. The federal government does a lot of things. If you have a political belief that it is too big or does too much then fine, you can vote for conservatives who will trim it down; this is not the way to do it.

[Update: Mother Jones says there are three million contractors, and that Congress is trying to arrange back pay for them. Nice.]