A number of Republicans have suggested their party could secure the moral high ground in the showdown over partial shutdown of the federal government if its members of Congress refuse their pay and challenge Democrats to do the same.
Some GOPers also believe members of Congress should furlough their staffs and give up all perks of the office until a spending agreement is reached. Folks from other political persuasions have suggested much the same thing, including the head of what remains of the Tennessee Democratic Party.
“Congressional Republicans are cutting off the pay of almost a million U.S. workers, but continue to pay the least productive, most wasteful, least efficient and highly paid federal employees — themselves,” Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron said in a news release.
Some unfurloughed federal employees have found themselves targeted by Republican House members looking for someone other than themselves to blame for the shutdown. One particularly shameful exhibition was put on by U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, who had the gall to browbeat a federal park ranger when she informed him the World War II Memorial is among the federal facilities now closed.
Remarkably, Neugebauer told the park ranger she’s the one who should be ashamed for the closure (even though she cast no vote and had no say on the matter). But hey, she’s a powerless federal employee and that’s what bullies do.
Neugebauer and his colleagues in Congress will continue to get paid (which, by the way, is $174,000 annually) during the shutdown. So will the House staffers. Congressman Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, issued a statement last week assuring his constituents that his staff will be on hand to help them through these troubling times.
“I remain committed to ending this government shutdown and fighting to protect the American people from Obamacare,” Roe said. “My staff will be here to continue listening to the views of 1st District residents and to help ensure constituents can receive help as quickly as possible.”
Some members of the Senate, however, have taken a different approach. Tennessee’s two Republican senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, have furloughed most of their employees and closed their district offices, including those here in the Tri-Cities.
This shutdown showdown was not something most Republicans in the Senate wanted to see. Some are up for re-election next year, and they know things didn’t go too well for the GOP the last time hardliners in the House thought shutting down government was a good idea. There’s also evidence that a good number of House Republicans might be willing to join with Democrats to pass a “clean” spending bill that does not seek to hold Obamacare hostage.
Tea party Republicans in the House and Senate simply don’t want that to happen. They want to delay implementation of Obamacare for a year to stall for time. The GOP hopes to win control of the Senate in the midterm elections next year and repeal the Affordable Care Act outright in 2015.
So far, Republicans have failed miserably in denying Obama what they fear will be the lasting legacy of his presidency — health care reform. They attempted to turn the 2012 presidential election into a referendum on Obamacare. That failed. They have attempted to repeal it more than 40 times in the House only to see those efforts fail in the Senate.
House Republicans have also tried to defund Obamacare. Back in August, a letter signed by members of the tea party caucus (including Roe) was sent to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, expressing a determination to continue attempts to repeal Obamacare, as well as defund the “implementation and enforcement” of the health care law in “any relevant appropriations bill brought to the floor in the 113th Congress, including any continuing appropriations bill.”
Roe’s signature on the letter puzzled some of his constituents after they read my column last week mentioning the congressman had told the Press in September he thought it would be “nearly impossible” to defund the Affordable Care Act. One told me she contacted Roe’s office for an explanation and was informed the congressman didn’t sign the letter as a show of support for a government shutdown, but rather to emphasize that passage any appropriations bill should be linked to ending Obamacare.
Although national polls show most Americans don’t think the two issues should be linked and believe the shutdown is unnecessary, Roe told NPR’s “All Things Considered” on Monday (hours before the shutdown deadline) that the House has to do what the House has to do.
“Hopefully we won’t shut it down, but if it does happen, that’s gonna be the case,” he said.
In other words: Stuff happens.
Roe later issued the following statement expressing his frustration with the shutdown:
“Since Senate Democrats refuse to even talk about how to get our government back open, House Republicans are trying to minimize the shutdown’s impact. On Oct. 1, the House considered three bills that would ensure veterans continue to get their benefits, reopen national parks like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and allows the District of Columbia to continue using local taxpayer funding to operate some of their basic government functions. Amazingly, House Democrats oppose reopening these functions and blocked the bills under rules that required a two-thirds majority.”
Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.