“Do you notice that I’m here?” Matthew Moses, a Maryland resident who moves furniture, wonders when he passes lawmakers in the hall. With tattoos poking out from under his blue work shirt, Moses said he’s worried that his bills would back up during a shutdown.
“I wouldn’t say [I’m] necessarily mad mad” at the members of Congress, he said. “But it’s frustrating, because these things should be handled properly.”
The Capitol employs 2,600 workers to maintain its buildings, trim its trees and operate its mini-subways. More than 75 percent of them would be told not to report during a shutdown, according to the Architect of the Capitol, the agency that manages buildings and grounds.
The remainder, who were being notified of their status Thursday, would be needed for limited food service, restroom cleaning and mechanical emergencies. But they wouldn’t necessarily be paid: After Congress restarted the government, it would have to approve back pay.
“This is not guaranteed,” a letter to employees said. In bold letters.
A month ago, a union that represents hundreds of Capitol employees advised them to begin saving up so they wouldn’t run out of money in an extended shutdown.
“But we’re talking about a couple of paychecks ago,” said Wally Reed, a U.S. Botanic Garden worker and president of the union local. Another union official said many workers make between $30,000 and $50,000. “How much can any one person put aside in a couple of paychecks?”
In the Capitol basement Thursday, the shutdown was the thing that nobody understood — and everybody wanted to talk about. “I got a paycheck for next week. I know that!” one Capitol Police officer said, manning a metal detector.
“Yeah,” the officer next to him said. “But what about after that?”
The worries extended all through a network of basement tunnels that stretch from the Capitol to Senate and House office buildings, and deep into the vast new Capitol Visitors Center.
There, the Capitol’s 138 tour guides and assistants have been told they won’t be needed during a shutdown. Many are distraught at the idea of tourists arriving from California or Colorado and finding a locked door.
“They’ll be able to see the Capitol” from the outside, said Megan Burger, a guide and union official. But “they can’t see where the Missouri Compromise was passed, or where the lying-in-state for President Reagan was. It just breaks [tour guides’] hearts.”
Burger said guides had taken this so hard that they even offered to come to work in street clothes and give their lectures outdoors. But Capitol bosses said the guides can’t do anything that would even imply they are acting officially.