Oliver was born on New Year’s Eve, 10 weeks early and nine days after we stopped paying his father, an air traffic controller from Lakeville.
The only hospital in the area equipped to care for a baby that premature wasn’t in-network for his family’s health insurance, but the longest government shutdown in American history has shut down the department that could have helped his father, Joseph, adjust his coverage.
So Oliver’s parents are spending the first weeks of 2019 in the neonatal intensive care unit, watching over their son, while the medical bills pile up and no paychecks arrive.
“I take solace in what matters most: Oliver is getting a little stronger and a little closer to home every day,” Joseph wrote in a note to Sen. Tina Smith. “Please do what you can to reopen the government and leave us with one less worry.”
Smith showed Joseph’s letter to her colleagues last week, along with a photo of Oliver in his incubator, cocooned in tubes and wires, wiggling his little pink toes.
She shared other stories, hoping to goose the Senate’s Republican majority into restarting the government, over the president’s objections. The father in Minnetonka who emptied his 4-year-old twins’ college fund to pay this month’s bills. The farmers who can’t cash the government checks that were supposed to pay their bills this month. The mom expecting her fourth child. The cancer survivor with the huge stack of medical bills.
The shutdown’s no great hardship for most of us. Not yet.
The trains are still running on time, because thousands of unpaid federal workers laid themselves down on the tracks.
We’re not paying them, but thousands of federal workers are out there, keeping our food, medicine and water safe, feeding and sheltering our neediest neighbors, processing our passports and tax returns, patrolling our coasts and borders and keeping our planes from falling out of the sky.
“To the best of my knowledge, this marks the first time in our Nation’s history that servicemembers in a U.S. Armed Force have not been paid during a lapse in appropriations,” Adm. Karl Schultz, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, said in a message that went out Tuesday in lieu of a paycheck. “You have proven time and again the ability to rise above adversity … Stay the course, stand the watch, and serve with pride. You are not, and will not, be forgotten.”
President Donald Trump sits in a White House that can’t afford to pay the water bill, guarded by unpaid Secret Service agents. The kitchen staff is on furlough so he serves room-temperature fast food to guests and retweets attaboy messages from supporters who think the best thing he could do to government is hack it to pieces small enough to drown in the bathtub.
The president retweeted an anonymous Daily Caller op-ed that urged him to dig in for a nice long government shutdown.
“[L]ock the doors, sell the furniture, and cut them down,” urged the writer, who estimated that only about 15 percent of the nation’s 2 million or so federal employees are “patriots.”
This country would have folded in on itself weeks ago if thousands of federal workers had stopped working when we stopped paying them.
The longer the shutdown drags on, the more we realize just how many things they do that we can’t live without.
This week alone, the IRS called 46,000 employees back to work — without pay — so we won’t have to wait for our refund checks.
The USDA called 2,500 employees back to work — without pay — this week, briefly reopening some 800 Farm Service Agency offices to process all those federal payments and farm loans the farmers and ranchers need.
The Department of Transportation brought in thousands of unpaid engineers and safety inspectors to make sure the airplanes are safe to fly. The Food and Drug Administration brought back 400 safety inspectors this week.
Brian Garthwaite, a compliance officer in the FDA’s Minneapolis office, wasn’t one who got the callback. As he watched his co-workers struggle to pay mortgages and medical bills this month, he thought about the oath he took when he came to work for the American people.
Every federal worker makes a promise to put loyalty to country and to moral principles above loyalty to any person or party. Garthwaite has had a lot of free time lately to think about the line in the oath where he pledged to “give a full day’s labor for a full day’s pay.”
“We want to be at work. We want to be doing the public service we signed up for,” he said. “We’re moms, dads, sisters, brothers. We’re your neighbors.”