"Orderly shutdown" of federal government begins

By 
Matt Murphy and Michael Norton, State House News Service
Oct. 1, 2013

For the first time in more than 17 years, the federal government on Tuesday did not open for business after Congress failed to meet a midnight deadline to implement a temporary budget measure to keep government funded.

While military operations, the postal service, air traffic management and benefits under Social Security and Medicare are expected to continue, government overseers early Tuesday handed down orders to shut down other federal operations as Congress remained divided over how to fund non-essential government programs.

The government shutdown is unfolding amid continued partisan sniping between and among leaders of the Republican-controlled House, the Democrat-controlled Senate and the White House. Along with potential ramifications for next year’s elections, the shutdown’s macroeconomic consequences are being watched closely.

President Barack Obama is due to speak from the Rose Garden of the White House at 12:25 p.m. Tuesday. He said Monday that a shutdown means “hundreds of thousands” of public employees would stay on the job without pay and several hundred thousand more “will be immediately and indefinitely furloughed without pay.”

Prior to the shutdown, Massachusetts Congressional Democrats took to the floors of the U.S. House and Senate to blast Republican leaders for their unwillingness to fund the government unless the implementation of the Affordable Care Act was defunded or delayed.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren blamed “backward looking ideologues” willing to “tank the economy” in order to deny women access to birth control. Sen. Edward Markey gave a speech laden with references to the popular AMC show “Breaking Bad,” which aired its finale Sunday night.

“I think Tea Party Republicans saw Breaking Bad’s dramatic depiction of reckless behavior last night and thought they could put on a better finale. They could create more drama. They could cook up even more toxic ideas. They could break this government in every bad way possible," Markey said.

Rep. James McGovern, of Worcester, told his GOP colleagues, “Put on your grown up pants and do your jobs.”

Hours before the shutdown, Obama warned of its impacts.

“Office buildings would close. Paychecks would be delayed,” Obama said. “Vital services that seniors and veterans, women and children, businesses and our economy depend on would be hamstrung. Business owners would see delays in raising capital, seeking infrastructure permits, or rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy. Veterans who’ve sacrificed for their country will find their support centers unstaffed.”

Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas), speaking from the House floor Wednesday morning, said Obama was failing to address cost escalation in entitlement programs and was “demanding a naked increase in our debt ceiling.”

“Mr. President, the government did not have to shut down today,” Olson said amid reports that the Senate voted 54-46 against joining the House in a conference committee to resolve differences.

Rep. Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico) said the federal budget is on an “unsustainable path” and the nation is divided between belt tightening and offering more services.

“If we’re spending more than the nation can bring in, if we’re spending more than the government has, then we would like to check that spending,” Pearce said. “We would give attention to the Affordable Care Act, to Obamacare, that we would choose that in order to relieve the pressure. The bill is unpaid for. We are printing the money to make government work now. About a trillion dollars a year is being printed. We call it quantitative easing because printing sounds so crass to the American public.”

Pearce called on Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Obama to “gather publicly in front of TV cameras and work the differences out.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) slammed House Republicans for trying to force changes to Obamacare that have failed to make it through Congress and for not accepting results of last year’s elections.

“You lost the presidential election. You lost the Senate election. You lost the popular vote for the House but because of your gerrymandering, you’re still in charge.” DeFazio said. “You do not represent a majority opinion in the United States of America on these issues.”

The U.S. House appears to be catching most of the blame for the shutdown after Republicans tried to use the threat of a shutdown to win concessions from the White House and Congressional Democrats on the health care law, which ironically begins today as citizens can begin enrolling in health plans offered through state-based exchanges.

The White House and Senate favor implementation of that landmark health care access law. Congressman Joe Kennedy III tweeted his thoughts in the early morning hours, writing, “Sad day for our country when opposition to quality, affordable healthcare leads to #GOPShutdown. - JPK”

The shutdown’s effects will be felt most acutely by those dependent on government services and federal employees who will be furloughed, though some analysts were arguing Tuesday morning that many Americans would not be affected at all by the shutdown. Congressional offices in Massachusetts will be closed, but skeleton crews will staff offices in Washington D.C. to assist constituents.

Around Boston, the USS Constitution museum and the Faneuil Hall visitor’s center were closed.

Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell late Monday night issued guidance to federal agencies “directing them to execute their plans for an orderly shutdown of the federal government.”

The state is closely monitoring a Head Start school program in Franklin County whose contract expired on Oct. 1, and could have to furlough workers and turn away students unless the state can find a legal remedy to keep it funded until the government reopens and grants are renewed.

Salem city officials are worried about the tourism impact during October - a peak visitor season in the Witch City - due to the closure of visitors’ centers linked to national parks and historic sites.

And the resources for the federal low-income home heating assistance program called LIHEAP could also be in jeopardy if the shutdown drags on, officials said.

The last government shut down occurred in late 1995 into January 1996 and lasted 21 days when former President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich could not agree on a spending bill. Republicans bore the brunt of voter backlash during the ensuring elections.

Republican candidate for governor Charlie Baker knocked the shutdown and its timing.

"The shutdown of the federal government is an enormous failure of leadership in Washington, and occurs at a terrible time as our economy is struggling to get back on its feet and job creation is stagnant,” Baker said in a statement. “It’s disappointing that our leaders in both parties were unwilling to seek common ground and find a bipartisan path forward that didn’t include a shutdown. Partisan brinksmanship carries with it consequences and is going to hurt real people. It's not the type of leadership and experience I will bring to Beacon Hill.”

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