Federal airport employees, including air traffic control and Transportation Security Administration agents are generally in good spirits and continue to work without pay at the Dane County Regional Airport, Rep. Mark Pocan said Tuesday.
Pocan addressed reporters before flying back to Washington, D.C., from Madison to work on a deal with Democrats to try to end the partial federal government shutdown, which is in its 32nd day. He said he continues to hear stories of hardship from constituents who are struggling to pay their bills and are now being charged for their medical and dental insurance because they don't have paychecks from which to withdraw it.
"The spirits in general are very solid," he said. "It's pretty amazing. They're going through an awful lot of hardship."
His comments come on the one month anniversary of the shutdown that has left tens of thousands of workers nationwide without pay. Some TSA agents have called in sick at major airports across the country, but that is not happening in Madison, Pocan said. Airport spokesman Brent McHenry said that operations have not been affected by the shutdown.
More than 3,600 people in Wisconsin are affected by the shutdown and are set to miss their second paycheck in 10 days. The current federal payroll ends at midnight Tuesday.
"We have had a very high attendance rate here. I think this is the upper Midwest, we’re going to keep doing the best we can under tough conditions. (But) you get to a second paycheck, you’re putting your car up for sale to get equity, that’s not going to continue easily for long,” Pocan said.
The staff continued to work to maintain operations at the airport during a power failure Monday.
"They deserve an enormous amount of credit for the professionalism they exhibited yesterday," Pocan said.
Airline companies and members of the public have provided meals and gift cards for furloughed employees at the Dane County Airport, Pocan said, but emphasized depending on the public to help federal employees is no way for the country to operate.
He is in favor of a proposal that would provide funding for all federal agencies except the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which administers border funding. That way, government could function and the border issue can be negotiated separately.
He is also considering legislation with other Democrats to mitigate damage from future partial shutdowns and retain employees if shutdowns become President Donald Trump's chief negotiating tactic.
"We can't face a shutdown every time the president does not get his way," Pocan said. "If this is the new normal, how do you make sure we don't lose high quality people?"
If the shutdown continues, Pocan said he will defer his pay, as others in Congress have pledged to do. He emphasized, however, that his choice to defer pay would be a "shallow comparison" to what federal workers are experiencing. He, for example, would not be charged for his health care and will still be able to easily get by.
"I am doing it in solidarity with the employees," he said. "The conditions are completely different.... I do get a little perturbed by members of Congress who act like they're in a hardship. That is complete B.S."