State officials weigh in on government shutdown
10/03/2013 - The Charleston Daily Mail. By Zack Harold.
CHARLESTON - West Virginia's representatives on Capitol Hill want to assure constituents they never meant for the current government shutdown to occur.
They urged leaders to come to a compromise quickly.
But, speaking with reporters on Wednesday, none of them were able to provide many details about when or how the shutdown would end.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito said both political parties and both chambers of Congress share the blame.
She places more of the blame on the Senate, however.
"I never wanted it to come to this ... but we couldn't get the Senate to act," she said.
She said the upper chamber has failed to negotiate with the House, even as House members have tempered their proposals for changes to the Affordable Care Act.
Representatives originally called for defunding the law but now are asking that certain parts be removed or delayed. Capito said she would like Congress to repeal the law's medical device tax and delay penalties on uninsured Americans for one year.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has made it clear he would not make any concessions on the health care law, however.
"At the same time, there's a part of me that says, we have sent back similar messages," Capito said.
She said the House might not have made clear it was ready to work out a compromise.
"Everybody's dug in," she said. "People send us here to solve these problems. They don't send us here to bash our heads against a wall.
"Somebody is going to have to reach a hand across the aisle, either leadership in the House, the Senate or the president to try to find some compromise here."
There is some hope Congress might pass a so-called "clean" resolution, which would temporarily reopen the government, but include no cuts to the Affordable Care Act or anything else.
Such a resolution would not stop the debate over the budget and the Affordable Care Act. It would, however, allow the government to return to work while lawmakers work out a budget deal.
Capito said she might support such a resolution.
"I said early on that I didn't want to shut down government. The possibility of a five-, six- or seven-day extension would be something I would look at," she said.
She said the House currently does not have a "clean" resolution in the works, however.
Sen. Joe Manchin spoke on the Senate floor about noon Wednesday, urging his fellow members to come to an agreement
"It's not what I signed up for," he said of the shutdown. "I've always looked at public service as a chance to make things better."
Manchin reminded his colleagues the shutdown is completely self-inflicted.
"This is something we can control," he said.
Speaking to reporters in a conference call, Manchin said he hoped the shutdown would end on Wednesday but figures it probably will come to a close no later than Friday.
He sees three possible scenarios. In the best case, he said, Congress would end the shutdown immediately.
In the worst case, the debate over the budget would drag on into mid-October, when Congress also would be debating whether or not to raise the federal debt limit. That, in Manchin's opinion, would cause "irreversible harm" to the country's economy.
"I'm praying to God that cooler heads will prevail," Manchin said. "If we don't get this fixed quickly, God help us all."
Manchin said he did not want to blame anyone, but said Republicans should stop holding the budget hostage over the Affordable Care Act.
He said if the law is bad, it will "fall under its own weight."
"Forget about health care. It's going to rise or fall on its own. Forget about energy," he said. "This is about finances. It's about the serious debt we have. It's time to do the reconciliation."
Manchin noted he was not in Congress when the Affordable Care Act was passed. He said he likely would not have supported the legislation, but said lawmakers should stop debating it.
Yet Manchin said Democrats in the Senate and President Barack Obama need to make some concession to Republicans before a budget can be passed.
Rep. David McKinley, a Republican who represents West Virginia's 1st District, said the debate is not over healthcare, but the economy.
He said Republicans knew from the beginning they would not be successful in defunding the Affordable Care Act, but wanted to begin a conversation about the economic effects of the healthcare bill.
Taxes associated with the Affordable Care Act would force businesses to raise prices for consumers and, in some cases, lay off workers, he said.
And while 800,000 federal employees have temporarily been laid off during the shutdown, McKinley said he would not support a "clean" resolution since it would only prolong the debate.
"The clean resolution doesn't solve the problem," he said. "Why can't we just sit down like adults and work our way through this thing?"
McKinley said the House has already appointed a conference committee, but members are waiting for the Senate to do the same.
"Sooner or later, they're going to say, let's just sit down and talk. Once you get that, you've begun going down the right path," he said.
McKinley expects Congress will fight a similar battle over the coming debt ceiling. He said he would only vote to raise the debt ceiling if the bill included provisions for reducing the country's debt.
He pointed to the $1.2 trillion in cuts passed by Congress during budget negotiations two years ago.
"The country has survived. We're forcing things to make decisions. And that's why we're going to see something like that again," he said.
Sequestration cuts have led to decreases in federal Head Start funding for preschoolers, cuts to the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program for low-income mothers and billions in military funding.
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., was a member of the House the last time the federal government shut down in 1996.
"The stakes are much higher this time," he said. "This is much more serious time for our economy. It's a time when the economy was starting to improve.
"When you start playing with the debt limit, that's a much more dangerous issue for American faith and credit in the world."
Rahall is concerned that Congress will not reach a budget deal before Oct. 17, when the government is expected to hit its debt limit. If that occurs, the government will lose its credit line and be forced to operate only with funds it collects.
Rahall said he was confident a clean resolution would pass the House if it were presented to members, but thinks the government shutdown could last a few more weeks.
Unlike his fellow West Virginians in Congress, Rep. Nick Rahall does not believe everyone is at fault for the shutdown.
"It's a Republican versus Republican issue, and it did not have to happen," Rahall said.
"There are legitimate hardships that are being imposed. These are dedicated public employees who do a great service for the American people. I don't want them to think we're not thinking about them."