Well, as of this writing I have now been working eight days without pay. Since the Government shutdown on Oct. 1, no more pay can be authorized to Federal employees, and over 800,000 workers were furloughed – sent home without pay - until this mess is resolved. There are still about three million “excepted” personnel (or “essential”, as the press calls them), who are required to stay on the job without pay. I am considered “essential” because my job involves taking claims to make sure people get their benefit checks to which they are entitled. The “non-essential” employees, as the press is calling them, got sent home, which led some conservative and anti-government wags to say, “Well, if they’re 'non-essential’, why do we even need them?”
First, “non-essential” doesn’t mean “worthless”. The folks who got furloughed are, as a rule, not responsible for the immediate health, safety, and security of the American people, but their jobs are still important in the long term, like FDA meat inspectors, and quality assurance staff in my own agency who review cases to catch people trying to scam the government for benefits they do not deserve.
Second, try explaining to some average-pay Federal worker who may live paycheck-to-paycheck and not know how he or she will pay their mortgage next month, why they are not “essential”. I’m tired of this stereotype of the Federal employee as an overpaid, underworked drone whose job is of no importance. I defy anyone to do my job for just one day and then tell me I am overpaid. One thing’s for sure: I’m certainly not being overpaid right now. Thank goodness we have enough saved up to pay our mortgage at least for the next few months. What really rankles me is that some Republican legislators have been saying, “Look at all the money the government is saving by not paying its workers.” That’s like a CEO laying off a significant portion of his workers, refusing to pay the rest, then bragging about how much profit his company is making. (Of course, he still gets paid, and so do these senators and congressmen.) This is no way to treat a dedicated, hard-working workforce, and refusing to pay 4 million people is bound to have an impact on the economy. (Don’t even get me started about the debt ceiling.)
Who knows how long this mess will continue? I heard a report today that it could go to Thanksgiving! I put most of the blame on the Republicans for this impasse, especially their radical lunatic-fringe “Tea Party” members, who seem to be taking great glee in threatening to crash the entire economy all for a health care bill that they irrationally believe is the worst piece of legislation since the Fugitive Slave Act – yes, someone actually said that.* It’s time for everyone to stop playing the blame game and hammer out a deal – Congress has reverted to acting like toddlers who won’t share their toys. And yes, Mr. Obama, while I appreciate your standing by your principles, you may not be able to escape this without a few concessions. The longer all this drags on, the more decent Americans are going to be hurt (and I’m not just talking about the Federal employees now), and I hope they remember this in November 2014. When the dust clears, the first order of business for the Republican Party should be to cut out the Tea Party like the cancer that it is.
One final comment: In the past I’ve disagreed or have been angry with my President or my government for some decisions that they have made, like getting involved in wars and such. But for the first time in my life, I have to honestly say I am ashamed with the way my government has been behaving these last few weeks.
*[By the way, here are some of the countries that have that “evil” and “socialist” national health insurance (of which “Obamacare” is an extremely limited, watered-down version):
United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Canada, Australia, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Spain, South Korea, Taiwan, Israel, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Ghana, Colombia, Philippines, and to a more limited extent, Ireland, France and Germany.]
Next time: More poetry news - I promise!