Last updated: September 30. 2013 11:51PM - 3166 Views
ANDREW M. SEDER aseder@timesleader.com

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One Democratic senator blamed Republican ideology for the government shutdown that many expected to begin today. A GOP House member says it’s the Democrats’ lack of compromise that pushed the country to the verge of the first shutdown since 1996.

Regardless of who’s right and who’s wrong, the facts are that today, thousands of government workers faced sitting at home, most national parks, forests and museums faced closure and those applying for Social Security benefits and passports faced the prospect of not having them processed that quickly.

The mail will continue to be picked up and delivered, the VA hospital will remain open, as will the federal courts, and air traffic controllers, border patrol agents, food inspectors and other “essential” employees will remain on the job. But the questions of what will be closed, what will be open and how will many Americans be affected would not be a matter of discussion today had congressmen and congresswomen done their jobs and passed a funding plan while leaving ideological matters out of this discussion, said U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton.

“If the House from the beginning just took the basic clean (continuing) resolution, you’d get every Democrat and enough Republicans to pass it and this crisis would have been averted,” Casey said.

Instead, he noted, Republicans opted to hold the government hostage for weeks by tying a simple spending plan to keep the government operating to other issues including the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. He said the non-starter should be put aside for discussions only after a funding plan is adopted.

“If we’re going to walk into every one of these discussions with an ideology … I’m not sure that we’re ever going to resolve it,” Casey said.

Casey called for a resolution to be passed that simply funds the government, “then we can have a debate until the cows come home on anything anybody wants. But to put the American economy at risk … I don’t think it’s acceptable to a broad spectrum of the American people.”

U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, said compromise is needed and the Republicans have done so by passing separate House bills that keep the federal government funded, delays Obamacare for one year, and repeals the tax on medical devices. Also, in a separate bill, the House also ensured that military personnel would still be paid in the event of a government shutdown.

“The House has accomplished several important goals that have enjoyed bipartisan support in the past, while also keeping the government running. I view this as a very credible and substantial compromise,” said Barletta.

Casey said he and fellow Democrats have compromised. Citing one example, Casey said he agreed to a spending plan at an annual level of $986 billion. Casey said he believed a higher spending plan was a better one but agreed to support this one to keep the government operating.

When it comes to Obamacare, Casey said Congress has spoken, the president and the Supreme Court have too and then American people had their voice heard in the 2012 presidential election. He said the matter can continue to be discussed but not when it could harm the nation’s economy and workforce.

Barletta called the Obamacare delay “an issue of fairness for all Americans.”

Other Republicans also said they will continue to do what they can to alter or eliminate Obamacare.

“House Republicans will continue our efforts to use other free-standing legislation, spending bills, or debt limit increases in order to defund, delay or repeal and replace Obamacare with meaningful healthcare reform,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, R-Lycoming Township.

Freshmen U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, chided Republicans for what he called “the reckless and irresponsible choice to shut down the federal government.”

“It is a sad commentary on the state of the majority party in the House that its leaders are powerless to contain the most extreme voices demanding for a path we know will disrupt the economy, kill jobs, and stunt growth,” Cartwright said.

Among the pawns are national parks including Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton.

“It’s regrettable travelers may have to change plans due to the ongoing congressional gridlock,” said Jenny M. Robinson, a AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman. “AAA is hopeful that an agreement can be reached so that travelers looking forward to visiting our national parks, monuments and museums are not disappointed.”

At least both chambers of Congress agreed to one thing more than six hours before the midnight deadline took place.

The Senate adopted a bill to pay members of the military in case the government shuts down. The House approved the same measure Sunday. The vote was unanimous and ensures that if the government really does shut down, members of the armed forces will receive their paychecks on time. Civilian workers, however, will not.

After the bill passed, a cosponsor, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Zionsville, said he remained “hopeful that Congress will avoid a government shutdown. In the meantime, it is a great relief to our troops … that they and their families will not suffer if Congress and the White House fail to come to an agreement on how to keep our government running.”

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