By Sen. Patrick Leahy
On Tuesday at midnight, the federal government shut its doors, closed for all but the most essential business concerning national security and the safety of the American people.
Vermonters, like Americans in every state and town of this country, are frustrated, confused and angry because of Congress’s inability to do its job and keep the government running. Visual consequences of the shutdown can be found around Washington, where museums and national monuments are barricaded.
In the states, national parks and national refuges have closed their gates and thousands of federal offices are shuttered. We heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee from the director of the National Security Agency, Keith Alexander, that as “each day goes by, the impact and the jeopardy [of a shutdown] to the safety and security of this country will increase.” But the true toll of this needless exercise is just beginning to be felt.
While some decry federal spending as if it is some kind of communicable disease, millions of American families rely on government-supported programs that provide the very lifeline keeping them afloat. Key nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program support 100,000 Vermonters. Another 1,600 children and families benefit from Head Start. More than 117,000 seniors are enrolled in Medicare, and close to 200,000 Vermonters are enrolled in Medicaid. These Vermonters will continue to receive assistance through the shutdown, but at what pace, when and for how long is uncertain.
The shutdown is hurting in other areas, too. Buyers hoping to purchase a home with a loan from the Federal Housing Administration will be turned away.
For farmers in Vermont requiring assistance from the Department of Agriculture, there is no one in the field and no one in the office; over 200 USDA workers in Vermont have been forced to close up shop as a result of the shutdown. WIC, the supplemental food program for pregnant women and young children, is 100 percent federally funded; there is only two weeks of funding available in Vermont for the nearly 16,000 participants in the state. What will happen to them? Our Republican colleagues in the House don’t say, and apparently don’t care.
Many Americans think a government shutdown is a Washington, D.C. problem, and that the hundreds of thousands of federal workers furloughed live in or near the Nation’s capital. Nothing could be further from the truth. Federal agencies operate in all 50 states. More than 40 federal agencies operate in Vermont, from the Department of Homeland Security to the U.S. Postal Service, the Veterans Administration to the Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Justice.
These agencies employ more than 7,000 people in Vermont alone. These workers and their families are facing an unnecessary financial hardship, all because a handful of ideologues in Washington have elected to shut the government down rather than come to the table to find an acceptable way to pay our bills and respond to the needs of the American people. Failing to fund the government does not simply mean federal workers are furloughed and government programs are suspended. No. Revenue streams for the federal government also dry up.
The Department of Education? No one is home to collect on defaulted student loans.
The Department of Justice? Civil fraud investigations and litigation, including False Claims Act and fraud cases that bring so much money back to the government are on hold.
The Internal Revenue Service? Audits that recoup millions in owned taxes are suspended. Billions of American taxpayers’ dollars invested across the country and around the world. A shutdown means no one is home monitoring those investments.
The CR passed by the Senate would fund all Federal agencies and would provide us the time needed to consider a path forward over the next six weeks. This is a crisis driven by a handful of partisans in the House of Representatives. Vote after vote, day after day, the Senate has rejected one flawed House proposal after another, and still the House has not voted on the clean continuing resolution passed by the Senate. For a handful of House members, there is no path to compromise to keep our government running.
We are elected officials sent here to make decisions—not slogans—on behalf of our constituents. We are sent here to make government work for the American people. This Vermonter, like so many others, is sick and tired of the politics-as-usual approach that has led to this shutdown.
Let’s come to the table. Let’s be adults. Let’s work together for the good of the American people, reopen the government, and find a responsible and reasonable way to get our fiscal house in order.
It’s time for each of us to be a leader, not a sloganeer.
Patrick Leahy is a U.S. Senator.