SITREP - Special Shutdown Update - October 8th, 2013
Well, as you’ve undoubtedly noticed, this shutdown situation continues. Here is a quick update on what’s happened over the last few days and where things stand now.
In short, both sides have dug in and aren’t showing any signs of moving. The President’s line is, “I will not negotiate”. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s line is “pass our bill because we won’t consider anything else”. The House is refusing to do that and is insisting on having negotiations.
President Obama refuses to negotiate saying that negotiating over a shutdown or a debt ceiling increase is irresponsible. History would disagree. Of the fifty-some times the debt ceiling has been raised since the 1970s, 27 times have involved negotiations and major spending reforms. In 1995, when the government shutdown for 21 days and the American people became furious with Washington, Congress and the President managed to negotiate an agreement out of it that ended up balancing the budget. President Reagan and Tip O’Neil managed to work out a compromise before them.
Apparently this time is different.
In the meantime, as both sides continue to yell into the wind, the House has been coming together to pass stand-alone bills to fund individual agencies. Among other things, we’ve passed bills to make sure that the NIH can continue clinical trials for people with rare forms of cancer. We’ve passed legislation to ensure that the VA has people on staff to continue processing the backlog of veterans’ claims. Each time, the House has managed to pass these measures with dozens of Democrats supporting these bills.
The Senate refuses to take them up and the Democrat leaders in the House are leaning hard on their members to vote against them. All politics aside, I sincerely can’t come up with a sensible reason why.
If (in their own minds) they think that Republicans are crazy enough to keep the government shutdown and (in their own minds) believe that they are on such solid principled footing that they know they are going to refuse to give an inch, then the only logical conclusion is that the government will remain shut down. So given those circumstances, why on earth would you refuse to allow bills to come up that would blunt some of the worst damage from a shutdown? Why would you go out of your way to make the shutdown more painful than it needs to be?
Presumably, for the same reasons that you would assign more Park Service employees than are normally at the World War II Memorial to make sure that barricades are tied together with wire and that busloads of WWII veterans can’t get in. It’s presumably why you’d refuse to bring hundreds of thousands of furloughed civilian employees back at the Department of Defense despite Congress giving you explicit authority to do so. And it’s presumably why, for a time, the Department of Justice’s Amber Alert website (an emergency alert system for lost children) would be shut down and the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” weight loss initiative website would still be up and running.
At a time when I’m really hoping the two sides can come together to work out a compromise, I don’t want to sound partisan. But the reality is inescapable. The Democrats think that they are winning politically in this situation and they are doing everything possible to make sure the shutdown goes on as long as possible and that it is as painful as possible. That isn’t the honorable thing to do here.
As I said last week, there is grandstanding on both sides. Both parties are contributing to the dysfunction. Both sides are convinced of their own rightness. Both sides are refusing to give in. As such, both sides deserve blame for the impasse.
But there is no excuse in my mind for going out of your way to cynically and needlessly hurt the American people.
That brings me to the latest issue (and perhaps the most relevant one for our area). Many of you have probably heard that a number of Head Start facilities in our area are closing due to the shutdown. They were supposed to have received a federal grant on October 1, as the grant had already been approved. But out of sheer bad luck, the check was scheduled to be sent on the first. They are now victims of the shutdown. There are 23 Head Start grant recipients around the country that are in the same boat.
The consequence of not receiving those funds is that these Head Start facilities are having to close their doors. That means that kindergarten kids from low-income, working households will have no school to go to. Parents will have to make other arrangements - even if there are no other arrangements to be made. These three year old kids are being victimized by the shutdown.
As we have done with other agencies’ budgets who provide essential services to the American people, the House passed a bill today to fully fund Head Start. The vote was 248-168. There are no strings attached to that legislation. The Democrats don’t have to agree to anything else. Just Head Start. It’s a simple funding bill to make sure that these facilities can keep their doors open regardless of how long Washington decides to keep fighting. I would hope - and I mean this sincerely - that the nation’s elected representatives could agree not to punish three year old children for a bunch of grownups’ intransigence. I would hope we could agree on at least that much.
Frankly, it remains to be seen. The House voted unanimously last week to ensure that all furloughed federal employees would be paid retroactively when the shutdown inevitably ends. We have a hard time voting unanimously to name a post office these days, so I would think Harry Reid would at least bring that one up. After several days, he’s still saying he won’t.
You really can’t make this stuff up. The link below is to a clip from last week at the Rules Committee. The Democrats on our committee were signaling that they wouldn’t support the Head Start bill. This is what I said to them:
In any case, the vote will occur this afternoon. Hopefully they’ll support it. And regardless, I hope that Harry Reid will at least allow this one to come up for a vote in the Senate. Punishing a bunch of kids to make a cynical political point is low. Even in this day and age.
I’ll have more to report later in the week. In the meantime, just know I share your frustration and I’m going to keep pushing my colleagues to find a solution that can work for everybody.