Little chance of quick end to painful month-long US shutdown

Potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks about federal government employees working without pay and workers trying to unionize at Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, on Monday. — Reuters

WASHINGTON — The United States on Tuesday entered the second month of a partial government shutdown over a lack of congressional funding, with no quick end in sight to the historic crisis weighing on the nation’s economy and morale.

Since Dec. 22, a quarter of the government has been paralyzed because of an impasse between opposition Democrats in Congress and the White House over funding for a wall to block illegal immigration at the border with Mexico.

President Donald Trump refuses to endorse a budget that does not contain $5.7 billion to build the barrier, the foundational promise of his 2016 election campaign.

Democrats oppose the wall, calling it “immoral,” costly and ineffective. They want the government reopened before any discussion of the matter.

On Saturday, the Republican president made a new proposal which he said aimed to break the logjam. It offered to extend temporary protection to about a million immigrants facing expulsion, in return for the $5.7 billion he wants.

Although it was rejected by Democrats — and even by some anti-immigrant voices — the offer could serve as a basis for new discussions.

The shutdown directly affects 0.5 percent of the labor force but has started to indirectly hit the morale of more than half of consumers, according to a survey by the University of Michigan.

Experts say it is also pressuring the world’s largest economy, against the backdrop of already slowing global growth.

In the most sensitive government agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, Transport and the State Department, the number of affected employees has been kept to a minimum.

Elsewhere, the impact is clear.

National Parks no longer have security guards, numerous museums are shut, and some airport security checkpoints have been closed.

About 800,000 federal workers, from FBI agents to scientists and some food inspectors, are furloughed or working without pay while trying to meet their routine financial obligations.

US Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl Schultz wrote in a Twitter post on Monday that “Our #USCG members sail across the world to protect US national interests while their loved ones cope w/ financial challenges & no pay at home.”

An economist for the Internal Revenue Service in New York, Carol Lopilato, 59, has been effectively unemployed since Dec. 23.

With the IRS since 1987, she was lived through other shutdowns and said: “I never thought it would go on this long — never.”

Lopilato said that she is “lucky in a sense” because so far she has not faced financial difficulty.

But “the longer it lasts, the more anxiety there is.”

She and others will eventually get backpay but more than one million contractors for the government don’t even have that to hope for.

“I’m about to lose my Medicaid, my car insurance” and driver’s license, said Yvette Hicks, 40, a contractor with the Smithsonian museum complex.

The single mother of two added: “Right now, this shutdown is really destroying me and my family.”

Hotels have stepped in to offer free rooms and complementary snacks. There have been fund collections, and food banks — which normally serve the most down-and-out — have opened up their services.

The longest shutdown in US history is also beginning to have a political price. — AFP