Should the Government Shutdown End in Sympathy for Its Employees? Absolutely . . . Not!

By Marcial Bonifacio

My friends and countrymen, in the midst of the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history (35 days), many Americans insist the Republican and Democrat parties come to a compromise.  Others hold President Donald Trump responsible for the shutdown, and hence holding federal employees hostage in exchange for border wall funding.  While there have been various issues made into spectacles, such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s cancellation of Trump’s State of the Union address (traditionally delivered in the House of Representatives) and Trump’s allegedly retaliatory cancellation of Pelosi’s Air Force One flight to Belgium, many focus on the approximately 800,000 furloughed federal employees.  Their sympathizers claim that they are financially suffering as a result of the gridlock from partisan politics.

Are they, indeed, or could this be yet another display of the very same partisan politics which they decry?  First and foremost, federal government shutdowns are not only not a new phenomena, they are anticipated whenever each chamber of Congress is dominated by opposing parties.  In such cases, federal employees are furloughed until both parties compromise.  Each party gets and concedes something, a new budget is legislated, the government reopens, and federal employees resume their regular work schedule with back pay.

One would think that federal employees, aware of such a prospect as a government shutdown, would be financially prepared.  Even if they are oblivious to history, it is conventional financial wisdom to have a minimum of 6 months of expenses saved for emergencies, such as being unable to work.  This applies equally to the private sector, wherein corporate downsizing or layoffs occur.  It is basically a self-prepared and self-regulated insurance policy, and since their average salary is $80,000 (some even earning as much as $100,000), saving seems hardly difficult.

Surely, they could utilize their credit cards or state unemployment benefits.  They could even withdraw money from their 401k plan without accruing any financial penalties.  Otherwise, they could do the old-fashioned thing and simply implement austere measures on their household budgets.

The aforementioned remedies are perfectly viable and temporary, but sufficiently compensatory for the average time employees are furloughed due to a government shutdown.  Business Insider policy reporter Bob Bryan makes this ostensible in his estimation:

On average, the 20 previous shutdowns lasted eight days, though they have been longer in recent decades. The six shutdowns since 1990 have lasted nine days on average. And removing the short, nine-hour funding lapse caused by Sen. Rand Paul in February, recent shutdowns have averaged 11 days. Most of these shutdowns weren’t severe, with 11 of the 20 lasting five days or fewer, and seven lasting three days or fewer.

Furthermore, the current economy is such that those furloughed employees can be assimilated into the private sector.  Indeed, the unemployment rate is at 3.7%, which is the lowest since 1969 (nearly five decades ago) while the labor participation rate has steadily risen in the past five years.  In fact, the number of job openings currently exceeds the number of available workers by more than a million according to the Wall Street Journal.  Such a labor shortage accounts for the 3.2% increase in wages over the past year.

Aside from the matter of so-called financial hardship for furloughed employees, is the matter of constitutionality.  According to the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  Hence, the current size and scope of the federal government has far exceeded its original design, which is precisely why America’s founders would scarcely notice the ongoing or even the past government shutdowns.

In conclusion, my friends and countrymen, let us pivot back to the original question along with some follow-up questions: Should the government shutdown end in sympathy for furloughed federal employees?  Should Americans contribute to a cancer fund in sympathy for the elderly who acquired lung cancer via smoking their whole life?  Should serial killers and rapists be paroled in sympathy for their austere life in prison?  I would hope that sensible, responsible Americans would respond with a resounding “Absolutely . . . Not!”

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