Maryland Delegation Lays Out Human Cost of Shutdown

U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) condemns the partial government shutdown during a news conference outside the Capitol Wednesday, with colleagues from the Washington, D.C., region. Photo by Robin Bravender

The federal shutdown dragged into Day 19 on Wednesday, leaving tens of thousands of affected Maryland residents unsure about when they’ll return to work or get their next paycheck.

Partisan warfare continued in Washington, D.C., the day after President Trump’s primetime speech declaring a “humanitarian and security crisis” along the southern U.S. border. His televised plea for $5.7 billion for a physical barrier did nothing to budge his Democratic opponents in Congress.

Maryland Democrats assembled outside the U.S. Capitol Wednesday with their colleagues from Virginia and D.C., and with union leaders who represent federal workers. The lawmakers accused Trump of hurting employees as the political standoff continues.

“We are eroding the credibility of the federal government,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.).

“We’re going to keep doing everything we can in our power to reopen the government so that they can get back to work, get the paychecks they’ve earned and perform the services for the American people that are critical for them.”

Overall, Maryland is home to more than 42,000 federal workers impacted by the shutdown, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the federal Office of Personnel Management. Nationwide, about 800,000 employees have been affected.

Those include employees who have been furloughed, in addition to those who are considered “essential” and are working but not getting paid. After previous government shutdowns, workers were paid retroactively after the government reopened, but that isn’t a given.

Hoyer and four other Maryland lawmakers are co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill that would give back pay to impacted employees. The legislation’s Maryland backers also include Democratic Reps. Jamie Raskin, Anthony G. Brown, David J. Trone and John Sarbanes.

Maryland Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen are co-sponsoring similar bipartisan legislation in the Senate.

Sarbanes on Wednesday accused Trump of holding federal workers “hostage” in order to secure funding for a massive border wall.

“We need a leader; we don’t need a demagogue in the White House. We need a president, we don’t need a grandstander,” he added.

Sarbanes pledged to the federal workers “toughing it out” at home: “We’re going to make sure you get your back pay, we’re going to make sure that you’re respected. That is our mission here as your representatives.”

Trump met with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill Wednesday. He told reporters after the talk that the GOP is “totally unified” in the shutdown, the Associated Press reported. Trump said there was “no discussion about anything other than solidarity.”

Still, some GOP lawmakers have expressed willingness this week to reopen parts of government impacted by the shutdown even if they haven’t settled the fight over border security, CNN reported.

Trump’s meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at the White House on Wednesday didn’t yield a compromise.

In a tweet, Trump called it a “total waste of time.” The president wrote, “I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!”

Meanwhile, Maryland Democrats are emphasizing how the shutdown is impacting their constituents.

Raskin and other lawmakers have planned a rally “in solidarity” with federal workers for Wednesday night in Silver Spring. His district is home to more than 80,000 federal workers, many of whom have been impacted by the shutdown.

The Maryland Democrat said he heard from one constituent in Frederick, who is a military veteran and has been an air-traffic controller for 35 years. He and his wife have three children, two of whom are in college.

“He says he’s going to have to take money out of their college funds and out of his retirement fund in order to pay basic expenses during this period,” Raskin said. “He’s going to have to pay a 10 percent penalty for taking that money out early. And even if we’re able to pay back their salaries — which we have every intention of doing — they’re paying penalties on taking money out of their kids’ college funds and retirement funds.”

Raskin added, “It’s an absolutely scandalous situation.”

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