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Washington Memo: Piecemeal approach to opening government won’t work

Gridlock in Washington has hit New Hampshire as the federal government is shut down for the first time in 17 years.

To keep the government operating, Congress needed to pass a budget by Oct. 1. But Republicans and Democrats could not agree on a budget, so instead they agreed to pass what’s called a continuing resolution. A CR would fund the government at existing levels for six weeks while lawmakers worked on a long-term agreement.

Republicans and Democrats agreed on the funding level for a continuing resolution, but Tea Party Republicans in the House also insisted on defunding or delaying the Affordable Care Act. As a result, the government shut down on Oct. 1.

Here’s how the Washington Post put it: “House Republicans are holding up a spending bill, but they’re not holding it up over demands for spending cuts or tax increases or some other package of deficit reduction. In fact, they’re happy with the level of spending in the bill. It’s a number they proposed, after all. . . . (But) Republicans weren’t willing to keep the government open unless Democrats let them dismantle Obamacare.”

I am willing to work with anyone who has a serious proposal to improve the Affordable Care Act, responsibly reduce our deficits and invest in long-term economic growth. But those debates should take place through the regular, open legislative process, not through a hostage-taking stunt like shutting down the federal government. If someone dislikes a particular law, they work to change it through elections and the legislative process laid out in America’s founding documents.

The government shutdown does not come without significant pain to families in New Hampshire. It’s costing taxpayers $300 million per day, not to mention added stress on small businesses and federal employees. This doesn’t include agencies being closed and historic monuments shuttered from lack of staffing, claims backing up at the VA, and all of the other problems caused by the government being shut down.

I understand how difficult a shutdown is for everyone, especially federal employees. During the 1995 shutdown my husband was a federal employee; I remember how hard it was. That is one reason I cosponsored of the Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act, which unanimously passed the House last week. This will guarantee that federal workers will not be punished for Congress’s inability to fund the government by making sure that they all receive pay for the duration of the shutdown.

Now, instead of putting an end to the government shutdown by passing the clean CR that the Senate has already agreed to, House Republican leaders are offering bills to open individual agencies and programs instead of the entire government. This is not an honest attempt to reopen the government. These cherry-picked funding bills serve only to give political cover to the very people who caused the government shutdown.

As USA Today said, “The House Republicans who forced the government closure as part of their quixotic quest to kill Obamacare offered to reopen some of the most popular programs, such as parks and the Department of Veterans Affairs, on a piecemeal basis. That might spare them some political heat. But it’s like seizing a school bus full of kids then offering to release the cutest ones.”

A piecemeal approach is grossly unfair to the American people. It serves only to draw out the shutdown, instead of resolving it. We need a clean CR that funds the entire government, not a political gimmick that continues to damage our economy and middle class and threatens our national security.

I am talking to my Republican and Democratic colleagues, trying to find common ground and get things moving here in Washington. We must work together, for the sake of our country and our people.

(Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter represents New Hampshire’s 1st District.)

What was the excuse democrats used when they did not pass a budget the last 4 years ?

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