Sen. Elizabeth Warren: Reasonable compromise thwarted by GOP shutdown of government
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., listens to a witness at Senate Banking Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) Purchase photo reprints »
WASHINGTON, D.C. — In western Massachusetts and across the Commonwealth, families are feeling the effects of the unnecessary and avoidable government shutdown. The shutdown has sent thousands of federal employees in Massachusetts home without paychecks and has disrupted access to critical services, piling onto the damage already caused by the idiotic sequester.
When I visited Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield in August, I heard about how federal across-the-board spending cuts are impacting the base’s operations. Between Barnes and Westover Air Reserve Base, more than 1,000 employees are facing furloughs because of the sequester. Last week, hundreds of these employees were forced off the job when the government shut down. While civilian employees at military bases in the Pioneer Valley are now working again, reservists remain furloughed until a new funding resolution is passed by Congress.
And the shutdown hasn’t just impacted our active duty service members and our reserves — it’s also hurting our veterans. Because of the shutdown, the processing of new education and pension benefits for 394,000 veterans in our state will be delayed.
Across Massachusetts, 8,000 federal employees have been furloughed, and nearly 4,600 state workers whose positions are federally funded could find themselves out of work if the shutdown continues. There are about 1,500 federal employees in Hampshire and Franklin counties, and federal offices in the area, like the regional headquarters for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Hadley and the U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development office in Amherst, have been shuttered.
Because of this shutdown, our students are also being left behind. Head Start programs may have to reduce operations or stop them completely for the duration of this shutdown. Colleges may not be able to spend or disburse important programs, like Perkins Loans or the federal work-study program, which help students pay for college. And federal funding for research grants at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and research institutions across the Commonwealth is on hold until the shutdown ends.
This shutdown doesn’t make any sense. Hardworking families in Massachusetts — and all around this country — are furious, and I don’t blame them. They’ve been squeezed, chipped at, and hacked at, for far too long. Now the Republicans in Washington embrace the sequester, which has made things even worse, and they’ve followed up with a mindless government shutdown.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Senate Democrats have put forward alternatives that would adequately fund the government while also addressing our budget deficits. Back in March, the Senate passed a budget that would have ended the sequester. It wasn’t easy, and we had to make compromises so that no one loved everything in the final bill, but we did it. This is what Congress is supposed to do. But after we did all that, some Republicans decided to block us from even beginning negotiations over that budget with the House of Representatives. That’s just pure obstruction, plain and simple.
Now, a group of Republicans in the House has refused to support reasonable compromises to keep the government open, and they won’t even let the House vote on a bill to end the shutdown that’s supported by majorities in the Senate and in the House, because they are demanding that President Obama gut the Affordable Care Act, which is already helping to make health care more affordable and accessible for millions of Americans.
Enough is enough. People want Congress to end the bickering and get back to work. It’s time we put an end to the fights over already settled decisions and find an agreement that will get the government back up and running, so we can tackle the real issues that matter to hardworking families in western Massachusetts and around the country.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren is the state’s senior senator.