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WASHINGTON — When the gavel banged and announced that Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), had won the election to become the new House Speaker, a cheer erupted.
With new members of U.S. Congress and a new party in control of the U.S. House of Representatives, one could probably expect many changes to come. But while the members of Congress and committee chairs have changed, the ushering in of the 116th Congress has not changed one thing — gridlock.
As the new Democratic-controlled House of Representatives was sworn in Jan. 3 the biggest and most- immediate issue facing lawmakers, both old and new, is the government shutdown. Since the government shutdown began at midnight on Dec. 22, there has been little to no compromise between Democratic and Republican lawmakers that could end it.
For weeks, one issue has kept the government shutdown — funding for a border wall.
Weeks before the government shutdown, President Donald J. Trump and Democratic leaders in Congress failed to come to an agreement on a continuing resolution that would fund the government. Trump, who made building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border a key campaign promise, said he would shut down the government if Congress did not give him the $5 billion in funding he was asking for.
Democrats, on the other hands, offered funding for border security, including drones and fencing, but said they would not support and resolution that provided funding for a concrete barrier, which they said is both impractical and immoral.
On Tuesday night Trump spoke to the nation in his first nation address, calling the situation on the border a “growing humanitarian and security crisis.”
“Every day, Customs and Border Protection agents encounter thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter our country,” Trump said in his address. “We are out of space to hold them, and we have no way to promptly return them back home to their country. America proudly welcomes millions of lawful immigrants who enrich our society and contribute to our nation, but all Americans are hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration.”
On the first day of the new Congress, the Democratic-controlled U.S. House passed several resolutions to fund the government. On Thursday, the House passed several year-long resolutions to fund the government, separating out funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which they want to fund for four weeks — perhaps enough time to figure out a compromise with the president.
The Democrat’s strategy is to pressure the president into coming to a compromise by funding all aspects of the government for a full year with an exception of DHS, which deals specifically with customs, immigration and border security. With all aspects of the government, except for DHS, funded, Democrats can work on a compromise with Trump — at least, that is the plan.
“The GOP has already voted for all these other funding bills for these other departments, so there’s no reason they should oppose it,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-8), alluding to the Republican-controlled Senate passing previous bills to fund the government.
Since the government shutdown in late-December, 380,00 federal employees have been furloughed while another 420,000 are required to work without being paid. In Maryland, one of the states with highest number of federal workers, has 26,000 federal employees affected, with 169 applying for state unemployment insurance — a major increase, according to the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
In reaction to the shutdown, saying that it has disproportionately hurt the Metropolitan Region; Maryland and Virginia governors Larry Hogan (R) and Ralph Northam (D) and Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser wrote a letter to Trump and Congressional leaders urging them to end the shutdown.
“As our federal employees and contractors experience a sudden loss of income, this not only causes financial hardship for individuals and families, but also deals a significant blow to our region’s economy. Hard-working federal employees and those who depend on them should not have to suffer because of this partisan standoff,” they wrote.
While Democrats said they were optimistic about getting a deal done to fund the government, the optimism dramatically faded when Trump made it clear he would not back down from the $5 billion in border wall funding he had requested from Congress.
In a December White House meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)., and now Speaker Pelosi, Trump said he would shut down the government if he did not get his funding request for the wall.
“I am proud to shut down the government for border security Chuck, because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems — and drugs — pouring into our country,” Trump told Schumer.
For newly elected representative David Trone, representing Maryland Sixth Congressional District, which stretches from Gaithersburg and Potomac all the way through the state’s panhandle, his first day as a Congressman began during a shutdown that has left many of his constituents out of work or out of a paycheck.
Trone said his priorities for the session are “opioids, opioids, opioids,” alluding to a national crisis of addiction that has disproportionately impacted his district in Western Maryland.
But unlike Trump, Trone does not see the wall as a solution to drug trafficking and the addiction it leads to.
“Opioids is not about the wall, it’s not about border security,” Trone said. “We need obviously border security, but opioids are coming in, in many, many different ways.”
On Friday, Schumer and Pelosi met with Trump at the White House, where Trump told them that the shutdown could last for “years” — with Trump confirming the statement during a press conference Friday.
While the new Democratically controlled Congress acts quickly to pass funding bills, it is unlikely any of them will end the shutdown until they can reach an agreement with the president. For the moment the shutdown continues.
As if things could not get worse for federal workers, at the beginning of the New Year, Trump signed an executive order cutting a scheduled pay increase for civilians who work for the federal government.
On Jan. 1, Trump’s executive order cancelling the 2.1 percent pay increase for federal workers took effect, with the president saying it was necessary because there is not enough room for it in it in the budget.