Lights Out Amid Government Shutdown
By Wendy Osher
(UPDATE: 7:14 a.m. 10/1/2013)
A dispute over the health care law backed by President Barack Obama kept Congress from approving funds last night for continued government operations, resulting in a partial government shutdown, and the furlough of hundreds of thousands of federal employees starting today.
House Republicans on Monday voted against a Continuing Resolution to fund operations, demanding changes to the “Obamacare” law. The final vote was 228-199 against the Continuing Resolution.
Democrats including the Hawaiʻi congressional delegation claimed the demands put party priorities ahead of constituent needs.
As a result of the shutdown, national parks across the state including Haleakalā National Park here on Maui are closed. Haleakalā National Park issued a reminder that the closure includes the Kīpahulu section in East Maui. Officials say only 10-15 employees who are considered essential will remain on site; all others have been furloughed.
The shutdown also impacts the USS Arizona on Oʻahu and visitors to Kalaupapa on Molokaʻi. Residents of Kalaupapa should be able to remain, according to information released by US Representative Tulsi Gabbard.
There are also closures at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes, Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau, Puʻukoholā Heiau, and Kaloko Honokōhau National Historical Park on Hawaiʻi Island.
Congressional delegates from Hawaiʻi say the shutdown puts an estimated 25,000 federal employees in Hawaii out of work, halts applications for passports and visas, and closes Head Start centers.
According to Rep. Gabbard, “if you do not already receive Social Security, veterans disability and unemployment benefits could be delayed if the shutdown is prolonged.”
“Medicare and Medicaid payment processing could also be delayed. In the last government shutdown, multiple veterans services were halted, ranging from health and welfare to finance and travel,” said Gabbard.
Officials say the US Postal Service will continue to operate as normal. Essential services will also likely continue uninterrupted including air traffic control and other transportation safety functions, federal prisons, the federal court system, and Department of Defense operations, according to Gabbard.
Hawaiʻi leaders voiced concerns over a federal government shutdown as Congress failed to resolve differences relating to a Continuing Resolution to fund government operations beyond Monday’s midnight deadline.
House Republicans on Monday requested to go to conference with the Senate on a six-week spending bill, which Hawaiʻi officials say includes a one year delay of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.
The failure to approve funding for continued operations means many non-essential federal government services will shut down during normal operations beginning Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013.
In response to the federal government shutdown, Acting Governor Shan Tsutsui released a statement on Monday night saying, “It is extremely unfortunate that Congress was unable to reach agreement on a federal spending plan because a federal shutdown will ultimately negatively impact all states and could derail economic recovery.”
“Governor Abercrombie’s Administration, including his financial team, has put forth tremendous effort over the last three years to improve the State of Hawaiʻi’s financial condition by making tough choices that have put us on the path towards a healthy economy. We will continue to examine the potential impact of the shutdown on our State,” said Tsutsui.
US Representative Colleen Hanabusa issued a statement calling it “an embarrassing day for Congress.” She continued:
“It is unfortunate that Speaker Boehner and his caucus insisted on putting the priorities of a radical segment in their party above those of the American people. With so much at stake and time ticking away, they continued down this misguided path instead of working with Democrats to bring a clean spending bill to the floor and keep the government’s doors open. In a time that demanded leadership, they offered brinkmanship. I believe it is inappropriate to take this debate to a joint conference, which can be a long and time consuming process, because it is critical that we end this government shutdown immediately and try to reverse the damage this uncertainty has already caused our citizens and economy. I will continue to urge Speaker Boehner to bring a clean spending bill to the floor.”
Hanabusa was among those in the US House that voted against the measure, which passed by a vote of 228-199. The item now heads to the Senate where Majority Leader Harry Reid has already said he will not go to conference, according to Hanabusa.
Also at the congressional level, US Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaiʻi criticized House Republicans faulting them for a “stubborn refusal” to fund the government. “Every moment that the government remains closed endangers our economy and American families across the country,” he said.
In a statement issued on Monday night, Schatz vowed to continue work to pass a Continuing Resolution to keep government open.
Earlier on Monday, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaiʻi announced new resources that she made available on her website to help constituents understand the impacts of a government shutdown.
In a statement, Gabbard said, “Between myself, my team in Hawai‘i and Washington, and the resources I have made available on my website, I want to provide the best possible service to my constituents during what will certainly be a difficult time. I am continuing to work with my colleagues to push for a reasonable solution to avert the shutdown, but will stand prepared to assist the people of Hawai‘i in every way possible until a common-sense deal can be struck.”
Earlier on Monday, officials with US Representative Colleen Hanabusa’s office said the office has plans to limit staffing during a government shutown.
Hanabusa’s Chief of Staff Rod Tanonaka, issued a statement saying, “Congresswoman Hanabusa and I agree that we need to consider office operations in light of which Congressional staff are essential to the immediate business of Congress, which is the passage of a continuing resolution to fund government operations and provide critical services to our constituents.”
In the event of a shutdown, Tanonaka said, “Our plan is to furlough all district staff and close our Honolulu office, and also furlough all Washington, DC staff with the exception of the Congresswoman’s Legislative Director, Press Secretary, and Assistant.”
He said his hopes are that any shutdown would be brief, but if protracted, staffing needs would be reexamined.
US Senator Mazie Hirono, meantime, was among those who voted on Friday to stop a government shutdown by passing a continuing resolution that also included protection for healthcare reform funding.
President Obama signed into law a bill on Monday that would ensure continued pay for US military personnel, as well as some federal civilians and contractors during a government shutdown.
Congresswoman Hanabusa has also pledged to donate her pay to a local charity while the government is shut down.