On Sept. 13, 2018, my constituent Sylvia got into a devastating car accident on her way to work for the Internal Revenue Service. Her car was badly damaged, and she was unable to walk or stand for weeks.
Sylvia’s road to recovery was long, and after two months, still ailing, she was forced to take unpaid leave. As a single mother, Sylvia had worked hard to provide for her child and had even been able to put aside some savings. Unfortunately, when her recovery dragged on for a third month her savings were depleted, and she had to return to work part time.
Three days later, President Trump shut down the government, and Sylvia was furloughed.
It’s now been over a month since President Trump’s latest temper tantrum forced thousands of Wisconsinites, like Sylvia, to live without certainty that they will be able to pay their bills and put food on the table for their families.
To make ends meet Sylvia is collecting unemployment from the state. However, according to Wisconsin unemployment law, if she is called back to work to assist taxpayers during tax season, though unpaid she will no longer be able to collect an unemployment check, making it all the more likely that she will be unable to meet her family’s basic needs.
Since Democrats regained control of the U.S. House of Representatives in January, we have voted 11 times reopen the government and put Wisconsinites back to work. We have compromised extensively with Republicans and are voting on funding bills that are nearly identical to the legislation Senate Republicans passed almost unanimously in December. Despite our concessions, President Trump and Senate Republicans have refused to meet us halfway. Their inability to work with Democrats to reopen the government is a stain on our democracy.
Every day more families are forced to utilize emergency food banks and take out loans to provide for their families. It’s downright despotic that despite all the obvious suffering we see in our community the president continues to hold 800,000 hardworking federal employees hostage to his demands for an unpopular, ineffective, and wasteful border wall.
Let me be clear: I support border security funding, but do not support funding for a wall that would do more for the president’s ego than the American public’s safety. The vast majority of contraband and illegal activity occur at our nation’s ports of entry, not the large border areas where the president wants to erect a wall. That’s why I support smart investments in infrastructure at our ports of entry, employing cutting-edge technology to scan for illegal contraband and unauthorized crossings, and hiring more judges and customs personnel.
If we abdicate our constitutional authority to appropriate funds to the president now, we will only increase the likelihood that he will shut down the government the next time he doesn’t get what he wants or changes his mind at the 11th hour. What will happen the next time he tries to enact more tax cuts for the ultra-rich, decimate Medicare and Social Security, or revoke protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions? This is not a gamble I am willing to take.
Thursday’s 52-44 vote for the House’s bipartisan funding bill tips the scales. It makes clear that we will not stand by while President Trump attempts to jam through radically conservative immigration proposals without hearings or debates under the guise of a “compromise.”
I am hopeful that the Senate Majority Leader will listen to the will of public, work across the aisle to end the shutdown, and finally allow Congress to negotiate a border security deal with the president in good faith. But first, we must get Wisconsin’s 3,196 federal employees back to work with the backpay they are due. Hardworking civil servants like Sylvia have suffered for too long.
Congresswoman Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, represents the 4th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
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