Guest Contributor at SAIS Europe
The United States government shutdown has wreaked havoc in Washington and is straining the pocketbooks of American citizens — some who are furloughed from government jobs and others simply struggling in the face of a stifled economy. But non-American citizens are also bearing the burden of the United States Congress’ irresponsibility on a personal level, with no political recourse to hold anyone accountable. As a citizen of the Czech Republic, Congress does not represent me, yet I put my faith in its responsibility. The government’s incompetence to perform its primary duty — to deliver public services to its taxpayers — has real and daily ramifications for me.
For six years I lived and worked in the United States. I paid taxes and enjoyed the benefits of life in the United States. During that time, I worked at an international development consulting firm in Washington, DC. Keeping in mind that I wanted to attend a top-tier international relations graduate school program in the United States, I systematically put aside a significant portion of my paycheck to save up for tuition. In fact, I transferred all my financial resources from my home country, the Czech Republic, to a United States bank so that I would have those funds readily available when I needed them and because I felt confident in the United States’ economy’s stability.
When I decided to attend SAIS Europe I knew that the exchange rate could hurt me. However, I did not imagine that my savings account would confront a United States government shutdown, which has stagnated the economy and eroded international confidence. Moreover, I never imagined I would have so little control over the state of my finances. I watched passively as the exchange rate of the US dollar to the Euro plummeted in the first days of October, eroding my buying power in Europe and undermining my years of saving.
This is not to say the American dollar is in a hopeless downward spiral and that my savings are worthless. In fact, the US dollar, unlike the United States political establishment, has sailed relatively gracefully through this crisis. However, there is no doubt the shutdown has damaged the reputation of the United States abroad. And that has a significant impact on anyone — American or not — who relies on United States leadership for economic well-being.
Most frustrating for non-American citizens who put their faith in the United States system is that, in spite of the taxes we pay and have paid, we’re left as by-standers in this 2013 tragicomedy. There is no congressman I can send an angry letter to, no senator I can appeal to and ultimately no way for me to hold any party accountable.
As a global power that commands high expectations from the rest of the world, the United States Congress must look beyond its immediate constituency and understand that its behavior affects individuals in the international community as well.
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