A dozen federal workers occupied the steps of the Capitol for several hours today to protest the government shutdown, which sent them home from work without pay only hours before. Most aimed their ire at Congress, which failed to pass a budget resolution before the new fiscal year starting October 1.
Protestors held signs reading, “I’d Rather Be at Work Now” and “Do Your Job So I Can Do Mine.” Some signs made cracks at members of Congress still receiving pay while they lose wages during the shutdown. One sign said, “At Least We Work for Our Pay.” One man held a copy of Green Eggs & Ham, spoofing Ted Cruz’s reading of the children’s book last week during his filibuster of the spending bill.
Without any appropriations from Congress, there is no authorization to spend money to keep government services deemed nonessential running. 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed without pay until the budget impasse comes to an end.
Only a handful of them, however, were out on the west Capitol steps today. Protestors emphasized that they were there as individuals and didn’t represent the agencies they worked for.
One woman, who preferred not to disclose her name of that of the department she works for, said she was there in solidarity with other federal workers. She said that it had been “a long season of demoralization” at her agency, and people felt “ground down.” In recent months her department had born the burden of the sequester, budgets cuts, negative media and frequent requests for information from members of Congress. “My agency has been a whipping boy,” she said. “Now there’s this–the cherry on top.”
Many demonstrators expressed concern for those without healthcare coverage, an issue which has been the major issue of contention during the budget negotiations. Republicans are pushing for rollbacks of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature healthcare bill, in exchange for passing a budget resolution.
“I joined the federal government to get healthcare,” said one woman, who also withheld her name. “We want the voices of millions of uninsured Americans who need coverage to be heard.”
Two French tourists stopped and asked the demonstrators questions about the government shutdown and the reasons for it. They said such problems with passing a budget occurred in France but they didn’t lead to a shutdown. If government workers were laid off in such large numbers, they guessed that protests would be widespread. “Is it always this quiet?” they asked. The shutdown prevented them from visiting the Air and Space Museum, since all the Smithsonian museums are closed due to the shutdown.
More federal workers may have a chance to join their colleagues at the Capitol, since both parties are ratcheting up the rhetoric. President Obama says that Republicans want a “ransom” to end the shutdown, while House Speaker John Boehner called his veto threat “unsustainably hypocritical.”
Federal workers plan a rally Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. on the West Lawn of the Capitol.