America, get back to work

The renegades who shut the US government aren't fooling anyone. Hundreds of thousands of citizens are being prevented from doing their jobs – all because a few Republicans are refusing to do theirs.

Dawn Johnson’s* eyes well with tears. The mother of four says she is too proud to cry but admits she "hasn’t slept much" since the announcement on Monday night that the US government was closed for business until further notice.

The 45-year-old from Brooklyn is one of 800,000 federal workers who were told on Tuesday that their services were not deemed ‘essential’. Johnson, who works at the Statue of Liberty, was asked to turn on her out-of-office email alert and come back once those on Capitol Hill passed a bill to continue funding the government. 

“When you have four kids you are always living paycheck to paycheck,” she told Business Spectator. “There are always bills or school trips or other things that we struggle to pay for even in the good times and I just don’t know how we are going to put food on the table if this drags on. It just makes me angry because we want to do our jobs but we aren’t able to, and then you have the politicians who clearly don't want to do their jobs and they are still being paid.”

Johnson is the victim that Congress is forgetting, yet one of the very people that they were elected to look after. 

She is not the only one. While most of the 3.3 million Americans on the federal government’s payroll in areas like the military and health will continue to work – albeit many with their wages deferred until a resolution is found – there are still thousands who are faced with the uncertainty about how to make ends meet.

Programs that provide low-income pregnant women, new mothers and children up to the age of five with healthy food, have not been funded since Tuesday. The annual influenza program has been closed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stopped investigating disease outbreaks. The National Institute of Health has suspended clinical trials. National parks have been shuttered. Many weddings planned in Washington DC will not go ahead. Even a Wisconsin farmer trying to cash a cheque for a cow he sold was affected when he was unable to obtain a signature from the Farm Service Agency for the sale due to the shutdown.

At a time when the US economy is still fragile, the government shutdown is expected to cost $US300 million ($320.2 million) a day in lost economic output, according to Massachusetts-based research firm IHS.

It is reprehensible when senators like Texas Republican Ted Cruz spend 21 hours in Parliament reading Green Eggs and Ham and quoting Ashton Kutcher in a deliberate move to delay a vote on the budget when they should be working on finding a solution.

While some politicians like Attorney-General Eric Holder have pledged to give back a portion of their salaries in solidarity with their employees, Cruz says he had “no intention” of doing so.

Republicans have been digging in and refusing to pass the budget unless President Barack Obama agrees to delay or amend the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as ‘Obamacare’. This is a law that has already been voted on by Congress and passed. And if anyone had any doubts about its validity then those concerns should have been put to rest when an independent umpire, in this case the US Supreme Court, deemed it to be constitutional.

However the right-wing Tea Party faction of the Republican Party is refusing to accept the outcome. Dozens of elected Republicans have even come out against shutting down the government, including 2008 presidential nominee John McCain and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

“In the United States Senate, we will not repeal, or defund, Obamacare. We will not. And to think we can is not rational," Senator McCain said.

"Quite frankly, be fair, I don’t think you hear responsible Republican leaders advocating a shutdown of the government,” Governor Christie said.

Obama knows who the fight is against.

“For the first time in 17 years, Republicans in Congress chose to shut down the federal government,” he said. “Let me be more specific: one faction, of one party, in one house of Congress, in one branch of government, shut down major parts of the government – all because they didn’t like one law.”

The media has been attempting to provide balance on the issue of who is to blame but this is one of those situations where to do so ignores the facts.

Polls show Americans are also pretty clear about who’s at fault. A CNN poll showed 46 per cent of people blamed Republicans in Congress while 36 per cent said Obama was at fault. Only 13 per cent of those surveyed felt the blame should rest with both parties.

This is political ground zero. Trust in Congress was already at an all-time low and if politicians are to start rebuilding the public's trust then they at the very least need to do what they were elected to do.

In a desperate bid to try to change public opinion, Republicans this week sought to roll out a nonsense line that Obama was more willing to negotiate with new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani than with them. The Daily Show's Jon Stewart perhaps best exposed how ridiculous that suggestion was.

“If it turns out that President Barack Obama can make a deal with the most intransigent, hard-line, unreasonable, totalitarian mullahs in the world but not with Republicans – maybe he’s not the problem.”

But Republicans are not giving in. On Wednesday, a hot mic picked up a strategy conversation between Republican senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul.

“I just did CNN,” Paul was heard saying. “I just said over and over again, 'We're willing to compromise. We're willing to negotiate.' I don't think [the Democrats] poll tested 'We won't negotiate.' I think it's awful for [Democrats] to say that over and over again”

"Yeah, I do too,” McConnell said. “I just came back from that two-hour meeting with them and that, and that was basically the same view privately as it was publicly.”

"I think if we keep saying, 'We wanted to defund (Obamacare). We fought for that and that we're willing to compromise on this', I think ... we're gonna win this," Paul said, before walking away.

Republicans, and more specifically the Tea Party, should go and visit Dawn Johnson and the 800,000 other Americans that may not be able to feed their families and rethink what 'winning' actually means.

*Name has been changed at the interviewee's request

Mathew Murphy is a Walkley Award-winning journalist based in New York.

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