(Oct. 5 -- By the Editorial Board)
When Tangela Brackenwidge showed up at the normally bustling Social Security card center on Folsom Boulevard in Sacramento on Thursday afternoon, the doors were locked. The notice posted said, "As a result of the federal government shutdown this office is closed."
A home health aide, Brackenwidge said she lost all her identification when her purse was stolen. She needed to get a replacement Social Security card to qualify for federally subsidized housing. "I've seen the units. I could move into the place today but I need my Social Security card to get in," a clearly distressed Brackenwidge lamented.
The sign on the locked door said, "We regret any inconvenience." Brackenwidge is one of millions affected by a government shutdown that has made the United States an international laughingstock.
As of Friday, the stalemate had dragged on for a full work week, courtesy of House Republicans demanding that a derail of Obamacare serve as ransom for keeping the government open. National media focused on the blackout of the Panda Cam at the National Zoo, a couple whose Grand Canyon wedding had to be moved to an Indian reservation and tourists being turned away from Yosemite National Park and the Smithsonian Institution, obvious photo-ops.
Those impacts are real. The closure of national parks doesn't just disrupt vacation plans for the leisure classes, it devastates local economies. Gas stations, restaurants, camping supply companies, hotels and more are losing money that can never be recouped.
Federal workers are also feeling a big pinch. Some 12,000 in the Sacramento region have either been furloughed or are working with no guarantee they will be paid. James Mudrock, president of the union local that represents transportation security officers at airports in Sacramento, Oakland, Fresno and San Jose, explained that his members are considered essential employees and therefore, are required to report to work. But they don't know for sure if they will receive their next paychecks, which are supposed to arrive in bank accounts this coming weekend. They have been told that until Congress votes to fund the government, no new paychecks will be issued.
"Obviously this is an issue," Mudrock told a member of the editorial board. "Our officers have mortgages to pay and families to feed."
Daniel Duarte, a civilian mechanic who repairs cargo and refueling planes at Travis Air Force Base, was told to go home last Monday and not return until notified. He said he's living on his credit card and saving cash to pay essential bills.
Susie Pacheco, who's worked part time in the commissary at Travis for 19 years, has been furloughed, too. She used to take home around $600 every two weeks but earlier federal budget cuts have reduced that to just $300. She and her roommate, another laid-off commissary worker, are worried they will lose their car and their home.
As the standoff in Washington continues, the impacts will deepen. Federal loans to small businesses and homebuyers are being delayed. Unpaid federal contractors will be forced to lay off their workers, medical research is being curtailed and food inspections have been reduced.
Pacheco has a clear message for Congress: "You've got somebody here who wants to work, loves what she does and she's being denied. Somebody needs to budge."
Clearly, that somebody is the House leadership. Obamacare is the law of the land, and if tea party opponents can't muster the votes to repeal it, they can't be allowed to use extortion to weaken it. Until House Speaker John Boehner and his team can muster the courage to defy their reckless minority, the American people they represent will pay the price.