People hold placards during a rally to protest against the partial government shutdown at Federal Plaza in Chicago, the United States, on Jan. 18, 2019. (Xinhua/Wang Ping)
NEW YORK, Jan. 22 (Xinhua) -- David Lampert is taking a vacation he doesn't really desire. As an economist with the U.S. Treasury Department's office in New York City, he is one of the country's some 800,000 federal workers who are put on furlough or, even worse, forced to work without pay due to a partial government shutdown with no end in sight.
"It's been 25 days. No work, no pay," Lampert sighed while standing among dozens of protesters in front of the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building in Lower Manhattan last Tuesday.
In his 30s, Lampert is among the luckier ones because "my wife has a pretty good job" and the family can still dig into their savings to smooth out some rough days, he said. The economist has also filed for unemployment benefits, as tens of thousands federal employees have done nationwide.
But the whole thing seems sarcastic to him. "I do important work. I bring in billions of dollars. It would seem to be that the country would want me to be at work rather than having to back-pay me for sitting at home and playing with my cat."
Braving freezing temperatures, Lampert joined a team to march around the Federal Plaza where a number of federal facilities are located. "Open our government! Open our government!" they chanted repeatedly. Security guards for those buildings were still at work at their booth, looking admiringly at the moving crowd. "Join us!" a protester yelled at a guard while passing him by, the latter shook his head, cracking a wry smile.
Some 420,000 federal employees who have been forced to work and missed their paycheck this month, such as those security guards, are not eligible to seek jobless benefits, according to the Labor Department, though many of them are living check to check.
Lampert said that's the major reason for him to participate in the protest. "I'm not starving, but a lot of people are. This is hitting the lower wage workers the hardest and it just shows how unfair the system is."
Already the longest in U.S. history, the ongoing partial government shutdown began on Dec. 22 as the White House and Democratic Congressional leaders failed to agree on a budget to fund the U.S.-Mexico border wall, a promise made by President Donald Trump during his campaign.
About a quarter of federal agencies have been paralyzed due to lack of funding, causing broad impact on various sectors, some of which closely related to people's daily lives.
Economists from inside and outside the White House have warned that a prolonged shutdown would drag down the growth of the first quarter and ultimately push the economy into a contraction. Consumer spending, a significant contributor to GDP growth in the past year, would also drop as furloughed workers could not get their disposable incomes.
Meanwhile, the shutdown is harming the business community, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as the process of initial public offerings is delayed and the review of mergers and acquisitions is suspended, among others.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also suspended most inspections at food facilities since Dec. 22, causing widespread concerns over food safety. Under great pressure from the public, the agency has restarted inspections of high-risk foods, such as seafood and baby formulas, by recalling some 150 furloughed employees to work without pay while remains shorthanded.
The shutdown has also weighed on tourism. Queues in some major airports across the country are much longer than usual as a record number of Transportation Security Administration agents are calling in sick. Most of the national parks and federal museums are also closed, leaving tens of thousands of international tourists disappointed. For those sites that are still accessible, sanitation condition is worrying due to a shortage of cleaners.
People traveling to New York City may feel comforting when they see the Statue of Liberty still opens thanks to a funding from the state government. But the city is entering a "full-blown crisis" due to the shutdown, mayor Bill de Blasio told the press last Thursday.
If the shutdown continues into March, the city would lose 500 million U.S. dollars in federal support every month, which would directly affect 2 million New Yorkers. "We're literally watching as the federal government starts to starve its people," he said.
A series of city programs, including food stamps, school breakfast and lunch, and affordable housing system, will be threatened. Funding for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which some 1.6 million low-income citizens rely on, will also be cut.
Resources will quickly be exhausted even for a city as rich as New York, said the mayor. "What I also need to emphasize to everyone is that it gets worse each month. This is not a crisis that just hits and then levels off. In fact it starts to cascade," he added.
WHO'S TO BLAME?
As the standoff in Washington stretches for over a month, the president and the Democrats are still busy pinning responsibility and public criticism onto each other instead of launching any substantive dialogues.
Trump has claimed that any deal to reopen the government must include funding for the wall. On Saturday, he laid out a plan to temporarily provide protections against deportation for certain young immigrants in exchange for the funding, calling it a "common sense compromise both parties should embrace."
Democrats, who have maintained that Trump must reopen the government before they will negotiate on border security, rejected it instantly. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi described this proposal as a "non-starter."
The two political figures then restarted their verbal battle on Twitter, making the re-opening seem even further away.
Though government shutdown has been a familiar partisan ritual in the nation, many political insiders think this one has gone too far.
Both side were "motivated by pettiness and partisanship" and "acted in a way that represents the worst side of politics," said political consultant Douglas Schoen in a commentary published on the website of The Hill on Sunday.
"In this war, neither side is winning, and those losing are the American people, specifically the 800,000 furloughed federal government workers not getting paid due to the inability of our leaders to end the shutdown," he wrote.
The Washington Post said on the same day that the tactics in this partisan power fight shows "the culmination of a no-compromise, winner-take-all approach."
"A deeply polarized political climate demands both sides play to their most ideological and rigid partisans," the article said.
"This is going to have a devastating impact upon families and the economy," New York State Assemblyman William Colton told Xinhua on Saturday. "That's not something acceptable and should not be allowed to continue."
For a country as large as the United States, said Colton, the effect of a prolonged shutdown would eventually spread to the world economy. "It's a perfect example of where government officials need to talk to each other and work out compromises," he added.