Government Says Our Lives Don’t Matter

We’re entering our third week of this so-called government shutdown. And it is an outrage that the politicians think they can play games with our lives. Because Democrats and Republicans in Congress can’t agree on a budget, working families have had to suffer. And the main disagreements over this budget they are trying to pass are about how deeply to cut various social programs. But that there will be huge cuts is already agreed upon.

Congress may not have agreed on a budget, but they had no problem agreeing on which services to cut off during the shutdown. They announced repeatedly that they would only cut funds to “non-essential” services. That means any services that wouldn’t affect the rich, the banks, the corporations – only those that workers and our families rely on.

The priorities of the government couldn’t be made any clearer than by this shutdown. In many states, the delayed funds have meant people have stopped receiving unemployment checks. Veterans benefits have been threatened with being cut off.  About 1,600 Head Start programs around the country providing education and food assistance to over 1 million poor children and their families have been threatened to close down. Housing assistance, disability assistance, food assistance, domestic violence shelters, and more – all of these services have been disrupted and are threatened with being closed until their funds are restored.

At the same time, an estimated two million federal workers have lost paid days at work, or have had to keep working while their paychecks are postponed. Many of them have been told they will never be repaid for these weeks during the shutdown. For the few wealthy administrators this may just be an inconvenience. But for workers – we’re struggling to get by as it is, and a delay of a paycheck, even for a week can mean disaster. Our bills don’t wait until we get paid.

But that’s not the case for the politicians. Congress passed a law so that they would continue to get paid under this sort of a shutdown. They are collecting their salaries of about $190,000 per year – which costs about $258,000 per day to pay for all of them. So whether they pass a budget or not, they will keep bringing home all of their money.

And as they made sure to keep their money flowing to their bank accounts, they also chose to keep it flowing to their House gym, equipped with a swimming pool, spa, sauna, steam room. They couldn’t stand the thought of losing out on that. The same goes for their underground Capitol subway system, shuttling them from their buildings to the Capitol, so they don’t take a ten-minute walk – that remains open.

What hypocrites! When we’re at work and we don’t get our job done in time, we get fired and our pay is shut off immediately. But for Congress, they’ve arranged it so they can keep getting paid.

This is the same hypocrisy we see in the BART and AC Transit negotiations. When the workers are pushed to shutdown transit because they won’t accept management’s huge takeaways, they are demonized for disrupting people’s lives. The media and politicians from all over criticize the workers, and try to pressure them not to go on strike. But when Congress disrupts the lives of millions across the country – they still get paid to do it.

None of these decisions to shutdown funding to needed programs was necessary – this was a choice. Congress could have easily agreed to keep funding all the programs while they fought over how deep the cuts would be in the coming budget. The funds exist. All of this could have been avoided.

But it is clear – the government doesn’t serve our interests. We are not the banks and we are not the corporations. They couldn’t care less if workers can’t afford rent or groceries or medical care or other needs. To the politicians, workers’ lives already don’t matter, so it makes no difference to them if they make our lives even worse.