Student Experience Blog

Classic Gridlock in Washington

First off, I apologize for being late on this post. I haven’t blogged in over a month and that is due in large part to my busy schedule. This town had a very interesting October. Since my last post, our nation experienced the first partial government shutdown in 17 years. The House and Senate were unable to agree on a budget to fund the federal government and as a result national parks, monuments, and museums were closed and between half a million to 800,000 federal employees were furloughed – including myself.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the shutdown would put me on vacation for the entire first half of October. Some of the interns in our office and I took advantage of this time. To mark the occasion, several places around D.C. had deals for furloughed workers. A local burger joint similar to Five Guys provided free burgers during lunch and dinner hours. The deal continued several days until they realized they were losing money, and a lot of it. Needless to say, we visited the restaurant a few times. Also, the National Geographic Museum admitted federal employees free of charge.

For three days we road tripped into Virginia, exploring some beautiful areas the state has to offer. We made it all the way down to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, a plantation that is incredibly rich with history. In addition, I was finally able to enjoy the perks of living in a sports town. My friend going to school in South Carolina came up for the weekend; we had end zone seats for the Maryland-Virginia rivalry football game and we also got to see the Capitals play a hockey game. Later that week I was able to see LeBron James play against the Wizards.

What happens when you have the most partisan Congress in history since Reconstruction? Well, they disagree on things. A lot of things. While it is unhealthy for the country at large, it is a fascinating time in history for me to be here. Leading up to the shutdown Senator Ted Cruz of Texas began a filibuster that would go all night and last 21 hours, becoming the second longest filibuster and fourth longest speech in U.S. Senate history. I sat in the gallery to see part of his speech.

The politics were even more exciting at the end of the shutdown. Two weeks into it, on a Wednesday, the government was one day away from defaulting on our debt obligations to other countries. It was clear Congress would have to vote to open the government before they could do anything about the debt, and the nation was watching to see if a deal could be made. I went to see for myself. An evening Senate session was held on the issue. I sat in the gallery as senators debated over a bill that gave concessions to both Republicans and Democrats. When the debate ended they voted to open the government and raise the debt ceiling. There was a brief break until the House picked up the resolution, so I ran to McDonalds at Union Station for a quick late-night snack. I made it back to the House of Representatives gallery to see their vote as well, where 285 members of 435 voted in favor of the Senate’s bill. Just before the midnight deadline the president signed the resolution into law, opening the government for business and I went to work the next morning.

Interestingly enough, yesterday I was on a bus heading to the Air and Space Museum at Dulles Airport when I overheard someone behind me talking about Chicken Dinner Road. Knowing there is a road in Caldwell with the same name and figuring there aren’t many roads named Chicken Dinner, I turned around and asked this lady if she was referring to the one in Idaho. Well, we got talking and it turns out she graduated from The College of Idaho in 2007. And this was 2,000 miles across the country. Small world.

Every few weeks I will be posting a blog with an update on my experience in Washington, D.C.

Gabe Osterhout is a sophomore Political Economy major from Boise, Idaho.