By Libby Casey
With only one more day to fund the government and head off a federal shutdown, Congress is still wrangling over politics and dollars. The Republicans leading the House and the Democrats in the Senate can’t agree on a bottom line. If the government does shut down, 800-thousand federal workers nation-wide, including an estimated 17-thousand Alaskans, won’t be able to go to work.
Democratic Senator Mark Begich says a shutdown is looking more and more likely with every passing hour:
You know we’re down to just hours, maybe a day from now, and it’s getting fairly likely we’ll shut down at this point.
Begich places blame squarely on Tea Party Republicans in the House. He says they’re being inflexible in negotiations. Begich says Democrats are willing to cut far more out of the budget than they’d like to for the sake of reaching a compromise. But he says Republicans keep pushing out of range their bottom line.
Republicans have not named a dollar amount they’d be happy with, but they are listing some deal breakers: they want money withheld from Planned Parenthood and from enforcing environmental regulations. Democrats are saying “no” to those items… and Begich says they’re a distraction from the process of budgeting.
They are putting these amendments, may be issues around family planning, or things they don’t like about Washington DC, or who knows what else, the EPA and all those issues, we’ll debate those, and those should be debated. But they shouldn’t be putting them on at 2 in the morning on the bills.
Senator Lisa Murkowski says she won’t assign blame to one party or body… but like Begich, she’s chastising those who are being rigid and refusing to compromise. And she says it does not make sense to completely eliminate funding for programs like some Tea Party Republicans want.
Well I’m trying to be reasonable about it, and when folks come into the room and before anybody’s even laid out a position they say I’m not even going to consider it if we’re going to be talking about abortion or public broadcasting, or drawing these lines in the sand, and saying no, we’re not going to talk about it.
Murkowski says she’s most concerned that a shut down will hurt military families. The military will keep working even if there’s a shut down, but while they’ll earn pay, they won’t collect paychecks.
To ask them to go out and defend us, and say well you’re not going to get paid or you’ll get paid later, this is wrong. This is wrong. They should not be worrying about the mortgage getting paid, when they’re sitting out in Afghanistan, and the spouse is counting on that paycheck.
Murkowski is working on a bill that would get military pay to go forward even if a shutdown happens… the House passed a Republican bill yesterday that would keep military pay going, fully fund the Defense Department, and fund the government for one more week, but it’s dead in the Senate. That’s because House Republicans stuffed it with unrelated riders like preventing D-C from spending its own money on abortions. Also Senate Democrats don’t want to split out Defense spending from the overall package for fear it will be even harder to get a budget passed.
Congressman Don Young did not vote yesterday and could not comment to A-P-R-N because he was having a minor medical procedure done, according to his office.
Senator Begich says no matter what happens in the next 24 hours, just the threat of a shutdown is already having a negative impact:
I sat here with ship builders a couple days ago, they said very clearly that every time we do this they can’t mobilize their work force. They have high specialties required in the construction industry. So they can’t hire. But then when they’re given a contract they rush around and hire so it costs more money for us. It’s the worst way to run the operation. Even without the shutdown, Alaska’s already starting to feel it and across the country starting to feel it. With the shut down, we’ll clearly feel it.
Begich says agencies are struggling now to figure out which employees are essential and would stay on the job, and which would have to stay home during a shut-down. He says it will impact agencies active in Alaska like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the U-S Forest Service.
He’s also concerned because it will also keep home loans with the Federal Housing Administration from going forward… and people who file tax returns by mail won’t get their refunds processed.