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Federal employees and shutdown protesters picket Ann Wagner’s office

BALLWIN, Mo. — Government shutdown protestors repeatedly knocked on Republican U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner’s, office door today in Ballwin.

No one answered.

The lights were on but it was unclear if anyone was inside. To send their message, they posted a sign on the door along with a dangling tea bag. The sign read:

Jason Alexander, 17-year tax processor for the USDA, holds a sign against Rep. Ann Wagner's office door to be taped.
Jason Alexander, 17-year tax processor for the USDA, holds a sign against Rep. Ann Wagner’s office door to be taped.

“We had enough of the tea, thanks. Tea Party Republicans have shut down the government and are harming the economy. We want our government back.”

Wagner announced yesterday she requested for her pay to be withheld during the shutdown, but eventually she will receive that money. Wagner released the following statement on Tuesday regarding her pay:

“As a result of partisan bickering and gridlock, I have waived my salary for the duration of the government shutdown because congress didn’t get the job done.  Those who make the laws should have to live by those laws, and I will continue to fight for the people of Missouri’s 2nd District.”

Sheila Harrison, USDA rural development processor, rallied outside the Federal Center on Oct. 1 and was one of the eight people waiting outside Wagner’s office on Oct. 2.

Wagner’s choice to withhold her pay, Harrison says, was a “kind act” because she did not have to choose to withhold her pay. Harrison added Wagner’s action changed her thoughts on the congresswoman only slightly because she is a member of the GOP — the group she thinks is responsible for the shutdown. What Congress needed more of, Harrison says, was compromise.

“We make America work. We are veterans. We are nurses. We are border patrol. We are the Thrift Savings Plan workers,” Harrison says. “We make America work and I think they could have taken that a little bit more into consideration and considering that they didn’t, that’s why we hold them responsible.”

A two-time breast cancer survivor (in 2004 and 2012), Harrison says she pays $135 in testing every month in addition to doctor visits, medicine and paying off a mastectomy. As the shutdown looms on without a clear end in sight, Harrison says she has prioritized her medical bills above other payments.

“My bills will probably fall behind because I have to spend more on my doctor bills than my electric or gas bills because I need to stay alive,” Harrison says.

Jason Alexander, tax processor at the CSC, says he cancelled his lawn care service today and his wife has started planning for more cuts in their budget. Cable and the phone service could go next, he says. Yesterday at the protest at the Federal Center, Alexander said he is concerned about paying for his children’s sports activities.

David Meinell, president of Missouri Alliance for Retired Americans, stands and smiles for a picture outside of Rep. Ann Wagner's office in Ballwin, Mo. on Oct. 2.
David Meinell, president of Missouri Alliance for Retired Americans, stands and smiles for a picture outside of Rep. Ann Wagner’s office in Ballwin, Mo. on Oct. 2.

Alexander says he thinks the money Wagner is losing is a “penny” in comparison to the loss for Federal employees.

“I don’t think she needs the money to survive. I don’t think it’s a serious thing,” Alexander says. “For me, I have my job because I need my money. I need to feed my family. I need to be able to take care of the bills…I think she was doing it to say, ‘I’m on your side. I’m with you. We’re rowing in the same boat.’ But in reality, the comparison is not even close.”

Vince Cuenca, Centralized Services Center Manager, says he believes the shutdown is about more than the budget and the Affordable Care Act. For Cuenca, he’s witnessed the “squeezing of government,” which he believes has resulted in poor working conditions for federal employees — less employees doing more work.

Alexander, who works with Cuenca, says in their group’s “hay day” 10 years ago, it was staffed with 35 employees. Now, Cuenca and Alexander say there are seven.

“To use a metaphor, we are being dragged to the bathtub. They’ve gotten us small enough that now they’re trying to drown us and now we’re on the way to the bathtub,” Cuenca says, referencing a quote from Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and outspoken conservative libertarian, who said:

“My goal is to cut government in half in 25 years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

During the shutdown, Cuenca says he is scrambling for money to pay his bills. He is trying to work for friends who own restaurants and coffee shops to help for the time being, but is also applying for unemployment.