Local officials' reactions mixed on shutdown

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.com, acarlson@ledger-enquirer.com and lgierer@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 1, 2013 

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop said Tuesday he views his job during the government shutdown as similar to a surgeon's.

"The mandate of a surgeon is first to do no harm," said Bishop, D-Albany, in a phone interview from Washington. "Shutting down government and not living up to the full faith and credit of the United States government will do tremendous harm. More people will suffer because of this."

As of Tuesday night, Bishop's full staff of 16 continued to work, but would not be paid until the furlough ends, a spokesman said.

Bishop, whose district includes south Columbus, said there is only one way to fix this crisis.

"It is going to have to be resolved by compromise, and I don't know where the side of the angels is other than to do what the government does and fund it," he said.

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a Republican whose district includes north Columbus, said in a statement Tuesday that House Republicans did not want a government shutdown.

"We have passed four full appropriations bills and three separate continuing resolutions," Westmoreland said. "They would have responsibly funded the government while protecting the American people from the harmful impact of Obamacare and

would have removed subsidies for members and staff for their health care plans. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats have rejected all of our attempts to keep the government up and running, refusing to even debate and vote on the two most recent continuing resolutions we have sent to them."

Westmoreland's 16-person congressional staff is continuing to work on a scaled-back basis.

"While I believe that all my staff is essential, because other federal employees will be affected across the country, I have furloughed staff members," Westmoreland said. "While some staff will be furloughed each day, both the Newnan and Washington, D.C., office will be open to ensure our staff can take calls and help constituents in as many ways as possible."

Local reaction

Rick Allen, the chairman of the Muscogee County Republican Party, said the shutdown will give Americans a chance to learn more about the Affordable Care Act. Tuesday marked the opening of the health care exchanges created by the act, which Republicans oppose. He said he is not for a government showdown, but that congressional deadlock forced the issue.

"Political theater has brought us to this point," he said.

He said an open-ended shutdown is far from ideal, not the least for what it would do to the national economy.

"Right now, we're more fragile and we need to be careful," Allen said.

Joseph Brannan, chairman of the 2nd District of the Georgia Republican Party, said he is "not surprised" at news of the shutdown.

"I understand the principles (House Republicans are) trying to stand on and I agree. But shutting down the government? I don't know," Brannan said. "I put on Facebook this morning, 'The sun is rising so is it really that bad that the government shut down while they're trying to sort it out?'"

Brannan said he understands the political moves by House Republicans but regrets that furloughed federal workers are caught in what he called a political struggle.

Estimates put the total number of furloughed federal workers between 750,000 and 1 million.

Brannan said that if the shutdown drags on, more people may become used to the situation, which would beg the question: "Are we spending our money where we need to be?"

John Van Doorn, chairman of the Muscogee County Democratic Party, said his reaction was characterized by four different emotions -- disbelief, empathy for affected federal workers, resolve in the face of "a far-right ideology," and sorrow.

"These people lost the election, lost the votes," he said. "There's no legitimate way they can do this."

What matters, Van Doorn said, is emphasizing civility and compromise, as well as remembering the health insurance now provided by the Affordable Care Act to the previously uninsured, all of which has been lost in this new "temper tantrum."

He said the next step is a clean spending bill, without politics.

"It's what could and should have happened," Van Doorn said.

He said citizens should remain wary of attempts to cut more and more spending and shut down more and more government functions.

Van Doorn said that although the cuts aren't apocalyptic, they still hurt.

"Like a frog who gets used to that water cranking slowly," he said, "we may end up boiling."

Tom Dolan, chairman of the political science department at Columbus State University, said that House Republicans, specifically the minority who advocated for the spending bill showdown that has resulted in a shutdown, should be wary of declaring a victory.

"(They) see this as a success and they don't realize the damage it's going to do," he said, pointing to the previous government shutdown in the '90s that turned public opinion against House Republicans, led by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Congress created this situation, and it was avoidable, Dolan said.

"They played chicken," he said of Republicans and Democrats. "The members of Congress are standing on principle, they all say."

The effects of the shutdown may not be immediate for many. But in areas where many federal employees live, such as metro Atlanta, the missing paychecks will start to add up, meaning less money for both necessities like food and housing and discretionary goods.

The ultimate cost may come next year, Dolan said.

"I really hope that the voting population remembers this when their representatives and other candidates approach them in the spring asking for donations," he said.

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