U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger for The Richmond Times-Dispatch
Earlier this month, I was sworn into office as a U.S. representative serving the people of central Virginia.
The moment was special. Before I took the oath of office, I was surrounded by the warm presence of hundreds of old and new friends from Virginia’s 7th. Together, we talked about the need to pursue smart policies in Congress that can build stronger educational and economic opportunities across our district.
But constituents also expressed serious concerns about the issue dominating television screens in the commonwealth and across the country: the government shutdown and its crisis-level effects on federal employees and their families. At that moment, our federal government had been in a partial shutdown for almost two weeks — and hardworking public servants were deeply concerned as they saw their very livelihoods being used as mere bargaining chips.
Right now, we are still in the middle of this hyper-partisan and reckless shutdown.
This impasse could have long-lasting, detrimental impacts on our economy, federal workers, and national security. Departments and agencies central to our national security and public safety — including the FBI, State Department, TSA, and air traffic controllers — are currently making tenuous decisions about staffing and their essential work functions. And even though they are protecting and serving their fellow citizens each day during the shutdown, critical law enforcement officials are working without pay.
As a former federal employee, I understand the commitment to country that led federal employees to public service, and now many are calling our offices as they wonder how they will make ends meet.
Congress must act so that federal workers aren’t pushed to the edge of bankruptcy due to a shutdown. On my first day in office, I helped introduce two bills: one would ensure that federal employees working without pay would receive the back pay they deserve, and a second would cut the pay members of Congress receive during a shutdown. If our representatives can’t carry out their basic job duties, they shouldn’t expect their full salaries.
And to limit the effects on those who protect our communities, I introduced bipartisan legislation with Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., that would protect the pay of federal law enforcement and military personnel during shutdowns. Keeping our country safe should never be a partisan issue, and I was proud to introduce this vital bill to maintain financial security for those who put their lives on the line for their fellow citizens.
Let me be clear: I’m no stranger to the challenges facing our borders, ports of entry, and the needs of the dedicated men and women who protect them. As a CIA officer, I worked counterterrorism and counternarcotics cases, and I have an acute awareness about the threats facing our country, both foreign and domestic. I’m always willing to have a conversation about strengthening our national security in a long-term, comprehensive, and cost-effective manner.
But we should be able to engage in these critical discussions without keeping the government closed.
As the shutdown drags on, I’ll keep fighting to reopen our government immediately. Our district has priorities we need to address — from boosting broadband internet access to making sure prescription drugs are affordable for our neighbors. And to achieve success in these areas, we need a fully operational government.
It is an honor to serve, and I look forward to hearing from you and seeing you in my Washington or regional office soon.