Despite being optimistic that a solution, albeit temporary, was in sight to end the federal government shutdown, U.S. Representative Tim Bishop held a conference call with reporters on Friday in an attempt to update the public on local entities, including the Shinnecock Indian Nation, that have been impacted by a sudden loss of funding due to the shutdown.
According to Mr. Bishop, the Shinnecock have had multiple infrastructure projects, including a suspended road construction project, negatively impacted. In addition, the Shinnecock Early Learning and Day Care Center and the Shinnecock Health Clinic have had to furlough staff members whose salary was paid through federal programs.
At the Brookhaven National Laboratory, while surplus from past budgets has allowed projects to be sustained, Mr. Bishop warned that the federal laboratory was being “pushed up against its outer limit of being able to operate, if this goes on too much longer.” He went on to say that he could not be specific as to how long “too much longer” would be, and said he didn’t want to create a panic.
Also being affected, according to Mr. Bishop, were Hurricane Sandy relief programs, because the Army Corp of Engineers has been severely furloughed, as has FEMA.
Mr. Bishop went on to say that the Plum Island research center was still retaining a “skeletal staff” since the initial reports of furloughs there, the Mattituck inlet project’s funding is stalled, and new research grants for Stony Brook University researchers have been stalled.
Lastly, Mr. Bishop expressed disappointment over a now increasing backlog of appeals and claims at the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, a backlog that he said was slowly being brought under control after reaching “epic proportions.”
Looking forward, Mr. Bishop said that while “information is sketchy and still taking form, it appears for the first time that productive discussions are going on in a way that would potentially extend and reopen the government and allow us to pay our bills.”
Pointing to an October 17 debt-limit deadline, where the government would no longer be able to pay its bills without extending its credit, Mr. Bishop said the Senate appears to be looking at a six month extension for the debt limit and the reopening of the government, while the House of Representatives seems to be looking at a six week extension.
“The President said he’d be willing to accept a short-term deal,” said Mr. Bishop, who noted that President Obama didn’t indicate if a short-term deal meant six weeks or six months.
“Yes, we are just pushing the problem back six weeks, but we do need some time here to resolve some issues,” he said.
Mr. Bishop explained that on October 17, if there is still no resolution, the federal government will have about $30 billion in cash, and on any given day has about $60 billion in bills.
“Our outflows will exceed our cash on hand and we simply will fail to meet all of our obligations,” Mr. Bishop said. “I’m being specific here to counteract what some people are saying which is that it is no big deal. It is a huge deal in terms of disruption of services that people have come to expect, and simply paying people for the work that they’ve done and benefits they’ve earned.”
As negotiations moved forward this week, the Senate has agreed on a plan to open the government until January 15, as well as the debt ceiling until February 7. The GOP controlled House has expressed an unwillingness to accept that plan, but on Tuesday, when a bipartisan House agreement failed, it appeared as if the only other option would be to accept such a deal—or default.
Mr. Bishop expressed confidence that a resolution would be reached, because “the stakes are way too high and a great number of [Republicans] are looking to step back from the ledge, privately shying away from the stance of the House Republicans.” He went on to say that “We’re a long way from home, but things are encouraging. They’ve driven themselves into a canyon and now they are looking to get out of that box.”
“The polling on this has been devastating to them,” he added, referring to a recent Wall Street Journal poll that recorded its lowest ever approval rating for the Republican Party.
When asked if he would consider opening only certain portions of the government if a temporary deal couldn’t be reached, he said he was opposed to that strategy.
“Why are we letting the Republicans pick and choose to reopen which portions of the government that they’d like to see open. Let’s open the whole government,” he said. “They’ve already dropped their demand to defund Obamacare, so what are we doing here? Let’s do our jobs. What, we’re going to open the Department of Transportation but not the Environmental Protection Agency because Republicans don’t like the EPA?”
When asked how his constituents have been reacting to the shutdown, Mr. Bishop said the calls he’s been getting “are generally running ‘Come on guys, get this done.’”