A few went right out and started looking for temporary jobs, in case the shutdown outlasted their personal reserves. Some are in better shape – for now.
“Thank God we listened to our parents and saved three months of expenses,” said one neighbor. She and her husband had their second child a few months ago. She was scheduled to return to work the day after Columbus Day, but she and her husband, who also works for the government, are home with the children.
Even though Senate leaders indicated Monday they were near a deal to raise the federal debt, it was not at all clear that the House would go along with a plan that some more conservative members see as a GOP sellout when it comes to dismantling the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”
“We’re good for three months,” my neighbor said. “If it goes on any longer, we’re screwed.”
Many Americans already are, as folks lived paycheck to paycheck after being hard-hit during the recession and the nation’s slow recovery. Businesses that thrived on government workers shopping in their stores, eating in their diners, even transportation agencies and parking lots that rely on commuters, are feeling the pain. Living on the margin will push many to the brink and some over the edge.
In Washington, there have been symbolic protests and volunteer efforts to show Congress and the Obama administration that people’s lives are affected in ways beyond politics.
A couple of individuals and a few, small organized groups have begun picking up trash along the National Mall, cutting grass and trimming bushes because an untended Mall, they claimed, made a much bigger statement about the country’s civic soul to the rest of the world. The Mall, they said, still needs to represent what is beautiful and strong about America.
At the World War II Memorial, however, protesters had a standoff with police, after removing barricades to give WWII veterans, mostly in their 80s and some in wheelchairs, unfettered access. Visitors also removed barricades to the Lincoln Memorial so that tourists, whose vacations have been diminished by closed museums and monuments, could get up close and take photos.
Friends covering the stalemate have told me that for House Republicans, the goal is still to shut down Obama, his ability to govern, anything that would build his legacy in a positive way and that no move is too extreme, even if it means tearing down the economy.
Some have already begun to call the Senate compromise a “surrender” and threaten to dig in for a long fight. Even the careers of fellow Republicans could be on the table.
“We’ve got a name for it in the House: it’s called the Senate surrender caucus,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) told The New York Times. “Anybody who would vote for that in the House as Republican would virtually guarantee a primary challenger.”
My neighbors are lucky, so far. They are prepared for a longer haul than many Americans, but it should be increasingly clear that even if an agreement is reached in this round, these showdowns are likely to be a staple of doing business in government over the next three years.
After this shutdown ends, it will be time for those who survive it to start squirreling away funds for the next crisis. It’s about the only thing that seems assured.
Jackie Jones, a journalist and journalism educator, is director of the career transformation firm Jones Coaching LLC and author of “Taking Care of the Business of You: 7 Days to Getting Your Career on Track.”