POTSDAM - As the federal government begins the first shutdown since the mid-1990s, Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh predicted a deal to undo the crisis may be hard to reach.
The conservative wing of the Republican caucus wanted a government shutdown, Mr. Owens said, lashing out at his colleagues on the other side of the aisle who are steadfast in their opposition to the Affordable Care Act.
Those folks are not governing properly, he said.
The Affordable Care Act, signed into law in 2010, has been at the center of the drama leading up to the government shutdown as members of the Republican Party hoped to have the law repealed in exchange for avoiding the government freeze.
Mr. Owens, who has been critical of parts of the Affordable Care Act in the past, said, Do I think there are things that need to be changed? Absolutely. I said that when I voted for it.
But Mr. Owens said the Republicans in Congress are not looking to simply improve the law.
This is not an exercise in making it better; this is an exercise in knocking it out, he said. It seems irresponsible to walk down that path.
And the people getting hurt are federal employees, Mr. Owens said. I think the way the civilian workforce has been treated is abominable.
At Fort Drum, Mr. Owens said, roughly one-third of civilian employees will be furloughed, with more likely as training exercises at the base draw down.
It is a unit that is still at war, Mr. Owens said. These folks are critical to the accomplishment of that mission.
Active duty military personnel will continue receiving paychecks but veterans will be affected as the shutdown continues for an unforeseen amount of time.
Although the majority of services offered through the federal Department of Veterans Affairs will continue to operate – including inpatient care, mental health counseling and prescription filling – veterans who are appealing the denial of disability benefits will be forced to wait longer because the Board of Veterans Appeals will not issue a decision during the shutdown.
We are seeing and can anticipate impacts to veterans making applications for benefits in the future, Mr. Owens said.
In the same vein Mr. Owens noted that Social Security and Medicare benefits will continue to be paid out but new applicants will have a difficult time even communicating with the agencies.
If youre in communication with any agency, the ability to get a response will clearly be negatively impacted, Mr. Owens said.
Mr. Owens said the shutdown could grind on for a long time as congressional leadership works to find a solution.
Right now, we dont have anyone on the Republican side who can deliver the votes to get a deal done. Thats really the critical issue, he said.
Mr. Owens said House of Representatives Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, could pass a bill if he were to rely on House Democrats to help him, but Mr. Boehner refuses to bring bills to the floor unless it will pass with Republican votes.
And the United States is also facing another potential fiscal crisis in the coming weeks as it approaches the $16.7 trillion borrowing limit.
People are not talking about how to solve the overall problem, Mr. Owens said, noting that the debt ceiling is likely to become another partisan battle. It is not acceptable to default on the federal debt.