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Rep. Susan Wild prepares for potential 'devastation' as a federal government shutdown looms

Susan Wild
Tom Shortell
U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, D-Lehigh Valley, said she has requested her paychecks be halted if the federal government shuts down next week. Unless a compromise is reached, essential employees like TSA security agents and air traffic controllers will be required to work without pay.

  • The federal government will likely shut down on Oct. 1 because Congress is at an impasse on spending bills
  • U.S. Rep. Susan Wild fears a shutdown will create needless hardships for government workers and contractors
  • Speaker Kevin McCarthy's narrow majority means he lacks leverage to negotiate with both conservative disruptors and Senate Democrats

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — For the second time in her congressional career, U.S. Rep. Susan Wild is bracing for a shutdown of the federal government. And just like last time, it could be a long one.

The Lehigh Valley Democrat said this week she doesn't see how Congress can avert a shutdown with so much work left to be done and Sunday's fast-approaching deadline.

She was shocked, she said, when House Speaker Kevin McCarthy sent representatives home last weekend after members couldn't even pass a procedural vote that would allow them to tackle a military spending bill. The decision showed a lack of leadership skills, she said.

"It just boggles my mind," Wild said. "It's concerning to me that we're not working in a bipartisan manner to get this done."

The stakes of a shutdown won't have an outsized effect for most people in Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District, which includes Carbon, Lehigh and Northampton counties and a slice of Monroe County, Wild said. Seniors will continue to receive their Social Security checks, and Medicare will continue to operate.

"I came in and there was a shutdown almost immediately thereafter. I've seen firsthand some of the devastation that reaps."
U.S. Rep. Susan Wild

Anyone needing assistance in getting a new Social Security card or applying for a passport may be out of luck. And a shutdown would furlough thousands of Americans working in non-essential government jobs such as clerks or park rangers, Wild said. People in essential roles, such as border patrol agents and air traffic controllers, will continue to work without pay. Typically, Congress reimburses these staffers once funding is restored, but that choice is left to lawmakers' discretion.

Government contractors, many of them small businesses, will feel the pinch, too, Wild said. The federal government makes $13 billion of payments to these contractors every week — ceasing that for a prolonged period will harm those businesses and could hamper the economy, Wild said. Some Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have cheered on a potential shutdown if their demands aren't met. But if lawmakers don't strike a deal, it will be hard-working American families that suffer, she said.

"That tells me you're way too privileged and shouldn't really be serving in Congress," Wild said.

Wild was a month into her tenure when the longest government shutdown in American history started. At the time, Senate Democrats and Trump were fighting over funding for his signature border wall. The stalemate dragged on for 34 days between December 2018 and January 2019 before a stop-gap measure was passed and Trump tried to fund the wall by declaring a national emergency.

"I came in and there was a shutdown almost immediately thereafter. I've seen firsthand some of the devastation that reaps," Wild said.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (L) talks to Rep.-elect Matt Gaetz (R-FL) in the House Chamber after Gaetz voted present during the fourth day of voting for Speaker of the House.
Chip Somodevilla
Getty Images
U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., (L) and Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., spoke in January as Gaetz helped block McCarthy's ascension to House speaker. Gaetz is now opposing McCarthy's spending plans, which could lead to a government shutdown on Monday.

While government shutdowns today are infrequent compared to the 1970s and 1980s, they have grown longer and more disruptive, said John Kincaid, a professor of government and public service at Lafayette College. Decades ago, it was usually the result of politicians being unable to reach a consensus on a technical matter for a day or two.

"In my opinion, these long shutdowns, they reflect this division between the parties where there are fundamental policy issues," Kincaid said.

The current impasse is perhaps the most extreme example of that divide to date. While the past shutdown debates pitted Democrats against Republicans, the current dispute is mostly fueled by discord within Republican ranks, Kincaid said.

McCarthy controls just a four-seat majority, meaning he can't afford widespread disunity within his party. Most Republicans want to avoid a shutdown, Kincaid said, but conservative holdouts, such as Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., have demanded McCarthy align with them on issues such as border control and funding for Ukraine. Thanks to concessions he made to secure the speaker's gavel, McCarthy can't alienate these rogue Republicans by negotiating with House Democrats without risking his leadership position, Kincaid said.

But if McCarthy supports something that will pass muster with the upstart Republicans, the resulting package will likely be rejected by the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority. Given the situation, Kincaid said McCarthy had few options to avoid another long shutdown.

"It would almost be political suicide for the Republican Party," Kincaid said of negotiating with House Democrats. "Lacking a huge majority, McCarthy is in a really tough spot."

Given the odds of a lengthy shutdown, Wild said she's requested her congressional paychecks be withheld if the government goes unfunded. Under the law, members of Congress still get paid even as federal employees are furloughed or required to work without compensation. It's wrong that the people most responsible for creating a shutdown get compensated while military families, small business owners and their own staffers face financial hardships, she said.

"I don't know how else to say it other than to say it's bulls***," Wild said.