Congressional impasse on government shutdown and Obamacare goes into the night

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

Congress failed to work out a short term spending deal on Monday, sending the nation into its first shutdown in 17 years.

Senate Democrats and House Republicans inability to hash out a plan will force significant changes in the daily operations of federal agencies across Wyoming.

No new oil and gas leases can be contracted between private companies and public lands run by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, said Jessica Kershaw, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department.

All wells currently producing will continue to produce, she said.

The BLM has 10,800 employees nationally and would furlough all but 600 in the case of a shutdown.

The number of federal employees monitoring energy operations will fall to the bare minimum to conduct inspections and maintenance, Kershaw said.

The Wyoming National Guard will furlough 400 technicians who work in human resources, logistics, purchasing, contracting and other areas. All active guard members would continue to work and be paid.

Both Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks would close. Campers, hikers and backpackers will have two days to leave the premises. A shutdown will cost park gateway communities across the country $30 million in revenue, according to the National Parks Conservation Association. A shutdown would mean 21,000 park employees would be furloughed nationally.

Entitlement program recipients would continue to receive Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and food stamps.

First-time home buyers and low-to-moderate income loan applicants could face delays during the shutdown. The Administration guarantees about 30 percent of loans nationwide and wouldn’t be able to underwrite loans in the event federal agencies are closed.

Experts say the shutdown could slow the improving housing market and consumer spending at a time when the economy is improving.

“Not all of these things happen right away, but it doesn’t take too long for these things to have an effect,” said Paul Van de Water, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a non-partisan think tank in Washington.

Most veteran services would continue, but President Obama threatened on Monday that some veteran centers could close during a shutdown.

What kept the two parties polarized Monday was a House Republican push to use the short-term spending bill as a way to put the brakes on certain parts of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

In the past week, the House drafted three separate sets of amendments in the funding bill that proposed to defund or delay Obamacare—all of which the Senate killed. The move to tack on the controversial health legislation was praised by the likes of Sen. Ted Cruz, who gave a 21-hour speech last Tuesday and Wednesday in support of the measure, and other hardline Republicans including Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., rebuked the game of political hot potato that has been going on in both chambers of Congress for the past week. In the case of a shutdown, the senior senator vowed to return any pay he would receive during that time.

“Once again our country is being brought to the brink by a crisis that we’ve seen coming for months,” Enzi said. “This gridlock is caused in part because of reliance on deal-making instead of legislating. Process may not be interesting, but this impending shutdown is the result of process being hijacked to avoid politically uncomfortable votes. In the Senate, the majority has prevented Senate committees from working on the 12 individual appropriations bills, and (Sen. Harry Reid, R-Nev.) has stopped amendments from being considered on the floor. The process that allows for debate and all elected members to have their voices heard has been abandoned and in its place is governing by leadership-driven crises.”

Barrasso appeared on CNN on Sunday, where he condemned Obamacare, claiming that it was being held together by “duct tape and chicken wire.”

Barrasso and Enzi voted to defund and delay Obamacare in Senate votes during the past week.

Into early evening Monday, the stalemate continued. With both chambers of Congress looking to display unity, much of the spotlight in the shutdown drama shone on Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Reid. Pundits were looking to see if members of either chamber would defect to the opposing side on the votes. But throughout the day the votes remained consistent.

The day began when the Senate rejected a House spending bill that came with amendments posing to delay or undo parts of the law for the second time in a week. Throughout the day the House worked on new amendments that would delay the January launch of Obamacare’s individual mandate while removing federal health insurance subsidies to members of Congress and their staffers. The Senate took a late vote on the legislation that secured the fate of federal agencies and their employees. Results weren't available at press time.

Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., said the late-day proposals by the House were a way for the Senate to eat its own cooking.

She said Reid would be to blame if members of Congress and their staff receive health care subsidies unavailable to other Americans in health insurance plans offered through insurance exchanges set up by Obamacare. The subsidies weren’t originally available to Congress, but the Obama administration granted them in August after what many in the GOP claimed to be backdoor deals between Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama.

“If Harry Reid hasn’t seen polls that show drops from 10 to 20 points for members of Congress who want to exempt themselves from Obamacare, I would be surprised,” she said. “If he has the political kamikaze in him to exempt Congress and the White House from Obamacare then I think he will see the public rebel against Democrats and Harry Reid in 2014.”

A government shutdown would be the 18th since 1977. The last shutdowns were in 1995 and 1996 when President Bill Clinton squared off with Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich in a spending battle. The shutdowns lasted for a combined 27 days.