Rep. Katie Hill discusses government shutdown with constituents at first town hallRyan Painter January 7, 2019 3 Comments
While many newly-elected congressional representatives spent their first weekend in office in Washington D.C., Rep. Katie Hill (D-Agua Dulce) held a town hall in Palmdale on Sunday afternoon to hear concerns from constituents who have been affected by the nearly two-week long government shutdown.
Standing at a podium surrounded by photographs of the various military aircraft produced by federal employees in the Antelope Valley, Hill addressed an at-capacity crowd of furloughed workers, contractors and other local residents at the International Association of Machinists’ union hall in eastern Palmdale for nearly 90 minutes.
Hill, who has been in office only since Thursday, began the town hall by explaining her stance on the shutdown and the steps she had taken to ameliorate the problems that she believes it may pose.
“When I was sworn in on Thursday, we immediately voted on a bipartisan package that would provide critical funding for border security and would also reopen the government,” she said. “As of Friday, the president showed that he is still unwilling to to prioritize the hardworking people of this country.”
Hill propounded the notion that federal employees had become collateral damage of the political impasse surrounding President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to construct a nearly 1,000 mile-long wall along the United States’ southern border. The president has pledged that he will not sign any legislation to reopen the government unless it includes a $5.6 billion appropriation to fund the wall’s construction.
The government has been without funding since Dec. 22, 2018, during which time nearly 800,000 federal employees have gone without pay.
“If this was just affecting the people in Congress, that would be one thing,” Hill said. “But it’s the people of this district who are paying the price, and I am simply not okay with that.”
While funding for border security is vital to national security, Hill argued, the president should not be permitted to “throw a tantrum” and hold the government “hostage” until he receives the legislative result he desires. According to Hill, restoring the pay of federal workers should take priority the robust and tenuous debates about border security.
“It’s time for Washington insiders to stop playing games with our lives,” she said. “Real people are suffering. People aren’t getting their paychecks and it’s only going to get worse unless we finally put a stop to the madness.”
One of those people is John Kostelnik, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3969, who was among local leaders invited by Hill to participate in the discussion. As president of the union, Kostelnik represents more than 1,000 federal law enforcement officers who work at the Federal Correctional Complex in Victorville.
These officers, Kostelnik explained, are currently are deemed essential personnel, meaning that they are obligated to work without pay during the shutdown.
“We work a 24/7 job and we can’t even meet the minimal obligations we have to meet as fathers, mothers, daughters and sons without pay,” he said. “We need to get paid.”
Since the shutdown started — just days before Christmas — many of these federal officers have resorted to searching for part-time, second jobs. Some are currently working as Uber drivers to make ends meet, according to Kostelnik.
While many have drawn parallels between the current shutdown and the 16-day-long 2013 government shutdown, Kostelnik said that this time around, the situation feels more dire.
“The feel of it is much, much worse,” he said. “And I think a lot of it is the comments coming down from D.C., from the president himself, stating that this could last months or years. There’s no way past a few weeks that my staff could sustain life, and we’re looking for second employment now, that will lead to us not being able to go to our primary job now, which we’re not getting paid for.”
Some constituents echoed similar concerns during the town hall’s question-and-answer session. Residents voiced their preoccupations that the shutdown will have adverse effects on Social Security, the national park system, the Transportation and Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Hill attempted to assuage these fears and highlighted possible avenues through which the government could be reopened without capitulating to the president’s agenda.
Hill referenced what political scientists refer to as the “veto pivot,” or the Senate’s power to overturn a Presidential veto through a two-thirds vote, and proposed that both chambers of Congress pass a version of the appropriations bill without funding for the wall — which the president would likely then veto. A vote by 67 of the 100 senators could overturn the presidential veto, rendering the bill the law of the land and restoring funding to the government even without the president’s approval — a situation that Hill believes could happen.
“I think it’s all about how much pressure we put on the Republicans,” Hill said in an interview with the Proclaimer. “And again, I don’t think that this is saying that we’re picking one side or the other on how we should deal border security. This is saying that we should reopen the government and then we can have that discussion.”
The Democratic-controlled House has already indicated its desire to bring a resolution to the shutdown, having passed a bill package on Jan. 3 that would provide stop-gap funding to the Department of Homeland Security — which would administer the border wall should it be built — until Feb. 8 and funding for the rest of the government until the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) previously stated that he will not allow the Senate to hold a vote on the bill because he does not believe the legislation has the requisite number of votes to pass, and that holding a vote would therefore be an ineffective use of time.
In spite of this political stalemate, Hill believes that Sunday’s town hall was a valuable opportunity to hear from constituents, and she promised more town halls in the future, which she said she will rotate between the Simi, Santa Clarita and Antelope Valleys.
“The reason that I came here was because of the high number of federal workers, but I will absolutely be doing these throughout the district,” she told the Proclaimer. “This is how I can take the perspectives of the district back to Washington.”
Ryan Painter covers government and politics for The Proclaimer. He has worked at the Santa Clarita Valley Signal, the Daily Trojan and as a campaign staffer during 2018 midterm elections. A 2016 West Ranch graduate, Ryan studies Political Science and International Relations at USC. Find him on Twitter @ryan_pintor.