Voices rise as US government shutdown cuts deeper

Federal employees holding empty plates stage a rally to call for a vote on the shutdown on Capitol Hill. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - Pressure is mounting on lawmakers, and on President Donald Trump, to end the partial US federal government shutdown with the US Chamber of Commerce warning that it is having a huge impact on small businesses across the country.

"The pain being inflicted on families and business is significant and in many cases long lasting" the Chamber's executive vice president Neil Bradley told journalists in a conference call on Thursday (Jan 24). Federal agencies and employees were dispersed around the country, he said.

Small businesses contractors who work for agencies that have been shuttered across all 50 states were not being paid and, in some cases, would never be paid. Those affected included very small businesses, even shops, he said.

Last year there were 41,107 such small business contractors working for agencies that have been shut down. The value of all contracts last year was US$29 billion ($39.4b) , Mr Bradley said.

In a letter signed by 645 national, state and local business organisations from all 50 states and some territories, the chamber on Thursday called on President Donald Trump and Congress to "come together, compromise and end the shutdown."

The warning from the chamber came as the US Senate, in back-to-back votes, failed to pass a pair of measures - one with President Donald Trump's border wall and the other without it - to reopen the government.

Thursday was day 34 of the shutdown - the longest ever in the history of the country.

The Chamber joined the mounting stream of warnings about its impact from employee associations and unions of agencies like the FBI, TSA (Transportation Security Administration), as well as air traffic controllers, with aviation unions saying airline safety was deteriorating.

Friday (Jan 25) marked the second time in a row many federal employees - a total of 800,000-odd have been directly affected - went without a pay cheque.

On Monday, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), Ms Sara Nelson, even suggested staging a general strike to end the shutdown.

"Almost a million workers are locked out or being forced to work without pay," she said. "What is the labour movement waiting for?"

The shutdown has been triggered by a demand from President Trump for US$5.7 billion from Congress to fund a wall - now morphed into a steel barrier - on the Mexico border, to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs.

Democrats, who seized control of the House of Representatives in mid-term polls in November, have thus far refused to authorise the money, saying the wall is immoral, unnecessary, and would not be effective.

The Democrats also say that Mr Trump, if he gets his way this time, could again use the threat of another shutdown as leverage to get what he wants in the future.

The president, for his part, has accused the Democrats of being hijacked by the "radical left."

On Thursday morning he signalled no compromise, tweeting a new slogan : "Build the Wall and Crime will Fall!"

He added: "Our Country has a chance to greatly reduce Crime, Human Trafficking, Gangs and Drugs. Should have been done for decades. We will not Cave!"

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