January 23, 2019

Sen. Manchin discusses Shutdown With Local Federal Workers | The Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG — A U.S. senator was in Parkersburg Tuesday talking with local federal employees about the continuing federal shutdown and how it is impacting them.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., held a roundtable discussion with federal employees from the Bureau of Fiscal Service about the continuing government shutdown Tuesday in City Council Chambers at the Parkersburg City Building. 

Around 100 people attended the discussion. Some of those present indicated to the senator they have been furloughed and are not working and some people are now working without pay. 

Manchin talked to the federal workers about bills federal lawmakers originally voted on that would have kept the government open, what happened that led to the shutdown, “tribal politics” of both parties, the ongoing debate over a physical barrier along the southern border, the ongoing debates of illegal immigration including DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), proposals being worked through now that could reopen the government, and the politics behind the shutdown continuing.

”This is self-inflicted,” Manchin said of the shutdown. ”This should not have happened. There is no way to justify what is happening. It is just a political meltdown is what has happened.”

Manchin said lawmakers should be working through the issues and government should remain open operating on continuing resolutions. However, it has become a partisan fight on both sides, he said.

”Both sides think they are right and that is the problem,” he said. ”Both sides think they are winning. I don’t know what they think they are winning. It is not a game. And I don’t know why they think they are right because they are both wrong.”

In the meantime, many federal employees like those assembled Tuesday in Parkersburg are hurting and facing uncertainty in how they are going to make ends meet, pay their bills and provide for their families, the senator said.

”People are hurting and the uncertainty continues on,” he said. ”I don’t see an end in sight and I am on the front line. I see the discourse going on.”

As far as the bill that will come to the Senate floor on Thursday that could end the shutdown, Manchin said he hasn’t seen it and wants to look through it before he comments on whether he would support it. However, he said he wants to move forward in getting the government reopened. He wants to see the bill so they can make amendments and come to an agreement on certain points.

However, a bill was passed that would pay people their back pay when the government reopens. That does not help people now to pay their bills, pay for the medications they need, put gas in their car or put food on the table, Manchin said.

”It is a horrible hardship for people,” he said. ”We need to end this as quickly as we can.

If the shutdown continues, the senator feels the government is running the risk of losing talented employees.

Many in attendance thanked Manchin for talking to them.

Eric Engle, an employee at the Bureau of Fiscal Service, said employees working without pay are having their 5th and 13th Amendment rights to due process and adequate compensation violated and that this arrangement violates the Fair Labor Standards Act. As a result, the NTEU (National Treasury Employees Union) has sued.

Engle asked, with these constitutional questions as the basis, if Manchin would support legislation to force the government to pass appropriations bills or continuing resolutions and force it to always raise the debt ceiling to avoid this ever happening again.

Manchin said he supports two-year budgets so agencies would not have to wait for funding to do planning for training. He also supports having a Balanced Budget Amendment, like he had to work under when he was governor. 

Virginia McDonald, a furloughed U.S. Department of Agriculture employee, said the shutdown is causing anxiety with her and her family, and is causing problems for people outside of the government.

”There are citizens in rural West Virginia who are doing without access to loans for homes,” she said, that her office handled. ”Many of these people need help in some of the neediest areas of the state.”

Others talked about not being able to make student loan payments and attempts to have them deferred were turned down; this surprised Manchin and he was going to have his people look further into it.

Others had family members who were voluntarily cutting back on food so they wouldn’t burden their working family member during the shutdown. Many had bills that needed paid. 

The senator outlined a few programs that could help federal workers, including loan programs and unemployment benefits they would pay back, at no interest, once the goverment was operational.

”It would give them cash now to buy groceries and put gas in their car and take care of their family,” he said. ”They would pay that back once the government was operational.”

Becky Bush, a federal employee for over 28 years, said this isn’t about one side’s agenda or another or about “winning.” It is about the 800,000 people nationwide who have been impacted by the shutdown.

”This is about 800,000 people that are losing,” she said.

By:  Brett Dunlap