Sunday, June 16, 2024

Government shutdown: What does it mean for Middle Tennessee?


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Photo by Andrew Wigdor / MTSU Sidelines

As the new year begins to pick up pace, the federal government remains in a partial shutdown as the standoff between Democrats and the president continues into its 22nd day.

The shutdown, which began on Dec. 22, 2018, could last “months or even years,” according to a statement made by President Donald Trump, or until Democrats agree on the multi-billion dollar funding for the southern border wall.

As Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives on Jan. 3, there was renewed hope for a resolution. However, Democrats in Congress made it clear that they would not agree to spend more than $1.6 billion on border security.

The Senate had initially passed a bill that excluded the wall funding, but this was blocked when Republicans in the House passed a stopgap bill that included the $5 billion funding. This adage requires the Senate to vote again on the measure and would need 60 votes to pass: a number no Democrat is willing to contribute to.

“Some have suggested a barrier is immoral,” President Trump said in an address to the nation on Jan. 8. “…The only thing that is immoral is for the politicians to do nothing and continue to allow more innocent people to be so horribly victimized.”

Trump’s speech, which ran for a little more than nine minutes, cited drug trafficking problems through the southern border and murders of American citizens by illegal immigrants as the reasons for his unwavering stance.

In an immediate response to Trump’s address, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed that Trump’s unwillingness to compromise was effectively “(holding) hostage critical services for the health, safety and well-being of the American people and (withholding) the paychecks of 800,000 innocent workers across the nation…”

“He promised to keep the government shutdown for months or years, no matter whom it hurts,” Pelosi said. “That’s just plain wrong. The fact is, we all agree we need to secure our borders while honoring our values.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer took the floor after Pelosi, expressing a similar moral outrage.

“American democracy doesn’t work that way,” Schumer said. “We don’t govern by temper tantrum. No president should pound the table and demand he gets his way or else the government shuts down. Hurting millions of Americans who are treated as leverage.”

Schumer reiterated the fact that Democrats also want border security, but they “sharply disagree with the president about the most effective way to do it.”

As these disagreements show no sign of winding down, Americans are left wondering what the shutdown actually means for the average citizen.

“It is important to remember that the shutdown only directly affects parts of the federal government, so state and local government agencies aren’t directly affected.” said MTSU professor Jason Reineke, who specializes in public opinion and political communication and is the associate director of the MTSU Poll.

In the shutdown, federal agencies must halt all “non-essential” work, and employees of this “non-essential” work are furloughed, or sent home without pay.

Even as some “essential” federal employees are getting raises, an estimated 380,000 federal employees have been furloughed, according to a report from the Senate Appropriations Committee.

On top of this, an estimated number of more than 420,000 federal workers are still required to go to work without pay, including up to 88 percent of the Department of Homeland Security, more than 41,000 law enforcement and correctional officers and up to 5,000 Forest Service firefighters.

According to the U.S Office of Personnel Management, as of September 2017 there are over 25,000 federal civilian employees affected by the shutdown in Tennessee.

Agencies deemed “essential” but are impacted by the shutdown include Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Justice, Interior, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, State and Treasury.

These agencies have more than 6,500 Tennesseans in their employ, according to data from Governing, a Washington D.C.-based magazine that works with state and local statistics.

The largest group of Tennesseans employed by the federal government are those who work for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, according to Governing’s data.

“One of Rutherford County’s largest employers is the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) at the Alvin C. York Veterans Affairs Center, and there is also an important VA campus in Nashville,” Reineke said. “Those are probably the places where the federal government has the most visible presence in people’s daily lives in Middle Tennessee.”

The VA, however, has already received funding for 2019 in a prior agreement, so Tennessee employees are unlikely to notice impact, Reineke stated, unless the governemnt fails to reach a resolution before the funding runs out.

According to Governing, Tennessee also has more than 4,000 federal employees in the military, as well over 2,000 in the Department of the Treasury.

Data from the Washington Post estimates that around 8,600 of the civilian federal employees in Tennessee are based in the Nashville/Franklin/Murfreesboro area and make up a little less than 1 percent of the area’s workforce, according to a report from the Tennessean.

“Federal government workers in Tennessee employed by one of the currently unfunded parts of the government … includes Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers working at Nashville International Airport and other airports in the state, who are working without pay,” Reineke said. “To the extent that the work of those officers is compromised by a lack of pay due to the shutdown, security might be at risk. With many students returning from winter break, and perhaps trips they took over break, this could be a particular concern for MTSU students as well.”

Of similar concern is the safety and maintenance of the National Park Service’s 12 Tennessee sites, since park services have been severely limited. Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro has closed both the park visitor center and the tour road and has cancelled all programs for the duration of the shutdown.

While the public may still access the visitor center parking lot and trails, anything that requires staffing and maintenance is closed, leaving many park officials to worry about the upkeep of the site.

The shutdown even forced park workers to cancel the official memorial service for the 156th anniversary of the Battle of Stones River, which took place from Dec. 31, 1862 to Jan. 2 1863.

Every year, the National Parks Service at Stones River holds a memorial service to educate the public about the significance of the battle, which had the highest percentage of soldiers on either side killed in a single battle, and to pay their respects to the fallen soldiers.

Despite the cancellation, several local groups met to remember the tragic event, including living history volunteers and the Sons and Daughters of Confederate Veterans.

Although the event lacked its usual state support, attendees were determined to carry on.

“We think that history is very important. We don’t want to forget our ancestors and what they fought for and what they represented,” said Tom Wood, a chaplain in the Sons of Confederate Veterans Gen. Robert Hatton Camp No. 723 in Lebanon, in an interview with the Lebanon Democrat.

This attitude seems to be prevalent throughout Tennessee during the current shutdown. Although many hope the disagreement will come to a speedy close.

“It remains to be seen how the shutdown will play out politically in Tennessee,” Reineke said, pointing out the prevalence of Republican support throughout Tennessee and the likelihood that the majority of Tennesseans will support Trump’s strategy. “I wouldn’t be surprised if polling showed a majority of Tennessee voters blaming Democrats for the shutdown, or even in favor of Trump using the shutdown as a means negotiating to build a southern border wall. If the shutdown wears on and has greater impacts on government services that are part of Tennesseans’ daily lives, we’d expect more of them to start to lose their patience, though.”

To contact News Editor Angele Latham, email

For more news, follow us at, or on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter at @Sidelines_News

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