2013-10-03 / News

Local delegates tense over federal shutdown

For the first time in 17 years, the U.S. government partially shutdown Tuesday because Congress has not agreed on a federal spending plan. The U.S. Senate for the fourth time on Monday night denied the House of Representative’s budget proposal because of a provision to undermine the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known at Obamacare. House Republicans in each proposal have tacked on the amendments, which the Senate calls deal-breakers.

The shutdown will prevent 800,000 Americans from getting paid. Moreover, it’s expected to cost the economy close to $1 billion a week.

Jamestown’s congressional delegation is comprised of three Democrats: Congressman David Cicilline and U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse. All three have been vocal about the situation, warning the Republican-controlled House that a government shutdown would hinder economic recovery.

Most recently, the U.S. Senate voted 54-44 to approve a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through Nov. 15. (The federal government’s fiscal year ends Oct. 1.) Reed and Whitehouse both voted in the majority, but the short-term spending plan was amended in the House.

“It’s time for Speaker Boehner and his House Republicans to drop their extremist demands,” said Whitehouse. “As Rhode Island continues recovering from the recession, we can’t afford to play games with government services that our people count on.”

Reed said the shutdown won’t cause commerce to grind to a halt, but the U.S. economy will take a needless hit.

“Forcing the government to shut down for reasons the vast majority of Americans disagree with is a terrible signal and could create undue hardships for families and businesses,” said Reed.

With the shutdown, contingency plans have gone into effect and agencies will continue to provide functions relating to national security and the safety of life and property. However, thousands of Rhode Islanders who work for the federal government, as well as contractors who do business with the federal government, have been instructed to stay home.

Also, federal grants that support state-run programs and help pay the salaries of state employees are expected to be delayed, costing tax revenue and reducing business activity at the local level.

Approximately $2.66 billion of Rhode Island’s total $8.1 billion budget comes from the federal government. According to the latest statistics from the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, the federal government is the state’s third largest employer, with more than 11,500 employees not including active duty military personnel and reservists.

“If Speaker Boehner cared as much about solving this problem as he did about protecting his own job, we would not be facing a shutdown,” said Cicilline. “Lurching from crisis to crisis because you won’t stand up to extremists in your own party is no way to govern.”

According to Cicilline, his team will continue to govern despite the shutdown. “My staff will remain available to constituents between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., even though there is no guarantee they will compensated for this time,” he said.

According Reed’s camp, there are many ways the shutdown could hurt middle-class Rhode Islanders and negatively impact the state. Among them, financial support to the 23,537 small businesses could be plugged; some of the 4,000 civilian U.S. Defense Department’s workers could be sent home without pay; nearly 7,300 military servicemen and women could see their pay delayed for more than 10 days; applications for Social Security could be delayed and benefits could be denied for the 200,000 residents using the program; 7,000 federal employees could be temporarily out of work; 34,000 residents who depend on energy assistance could take a hit; 2,450 children could see their head-start centers closed; pension benefits for the 90,000 veterans could be delayed; and the Roger Williams National Memorial and Rhode Island Refuge Complex will close.

With the impending slashes to Rhode Island’s economy, Gov. Lincoln Chafee also weighed in on the issue.

“As our economy is slowly rebounding, now is the time for leaders to ensure that government’s important services continue for our citizens as well as our businesses,” he said. “We must avoid anything that will slow or impede the positives we have gained during the recovery. I believe that Rhode Island, and indeed the United States, cannot afford a federal shutdown over a budget impasse and health care reform, which is the law of the land. Congress needs to work together and develop a viable solution.”

Added Cicilline, “We can only hope that House Republicans and Speaker Boehner will come to their senses.”

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