State's congressional delegation working to keep government, Obamacare running

With less than a week to go before the government runs out of money, members of the state's congressional delegation say they are working to avert a shutdown and to implement the president's signature health care law.

"There are few dumber ideas in the world than shutting down the federal government," U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Monday. "This would be a disaster for Connecticut and a disaster for the country."

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives set up a showdown over the budget this week by passing a continuing resolution on Friday that extends the current spending rates through Dec. 15 but also defunds the Affordable Care Act and maintains the automatic budget cuts imposed under sequestration.

House Speaker John Boehner said after the vote that the message to the Senate is "real simple."

"The American people don't want the government shut down, and they don't want Obamacare," he said.

Murphy said he hoped that the "nihilist Republicans" in the House "don't have their way and destroy the government from within."

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Tea Party members in the House are "a small fringe of extremist rightwing ideologues who are holding hostage the entire nation."

"I'm really urging and working with the leadership of the Senate to send back to the House a commonsense compromise that continues the government's work without defunding health care reform," Blumenthal said Monday to explain his support for a continuing resolution without the "poison pill" to change the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has warned that any bill that defunds Obamacare is "dead" in the Senate. Much of the government will shut down if a deal cannot be reached before midnight on Sept. 30. The Obamacare health insurance exchanges, which are the online marketplaces for health insurance, open Oct. 1.

Congress is also facing a mid-October deadline to raise the debt limit. The Treasury Department will hit its borrowing limit and not be able to pay its bills soon after.

Courtney, D-2nd District, voted against the continuing resolution. He said he could possibly envision allowing the short-term continuing resolution to go forward depending on how the Senate tweaks it, "but that's it."

Murphy said he, too, wants Congress to pass a budget and stop sequestration but is willing to compromise and vote for a continuing resolution, as long as the repeal of the health care law is not attached.

Many expect Reid will amend the bill this week to strip out the portion dealing with Obama care and send it back to the House by the weekend.

"The upside of that is we could avoid a shutdown, which would be horrendous for the country and the region," Courtney said Monday. "But it gives the sequester another two and a half months of life, which a lot of us are just really frustrated by because at some point we've got to turn off this arbitrary mechanism of cutting spending that is really, in southeastern Connecticut particularly, going to cause real harm."

The Navy has said it would not be able to buy two Virginia-class submarines in fiscal 2014 as planned, or keep the program to design and build a new class of ballistic-missile submarines on track if sequestration and the continuing resolution continue into 2014.

Murphy said the delegation is "fighting like hell to keep the commitment to build two Virginia-class submarines a year."

Courtney added that sequestration also cuts payments to hospitals, schools and the Head Start school readiness program. The University of Connecticut lost research contracts because of the cuts to the National Institutes of Health, he added.

"The longer it continues, it's going to continue to erode a lot of the underpinnings of the southeastern Connecticut economy," Courtney said.

If Congress does not agree to the continuing resolution and the government does shut down, federal employees deemed nonessential would be sent home.

Some agencies would still operate and military personnel would continue to serve, but those employees and servicemen and women would likely not be paid until the government reopens. Payments through entitlement programs could also be delayed and claims from veterans could be processed more slowly.

Blumenthal said the effects of a shutdown would vary depending on how long it lasts and what ground rules are set, since he would fight for a provision to pay the troops, if it comes to that. He said there are other ways to improve or correct flaws to the health care reform proposal, other than shutting down the government.

"It's a self-inflicted wound that is unacceptable in my view," Blumenthal said. "Never before has a small faction held hostage the entire budget in an effort to stop funding a program that has been passed by the Congress, signed by the president and upheld by the Supreme Court."

The two previous shutdowns occurred in late 1995 and early 1996. Courtney said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has already told the representatives to plan on working this weekend.

"We're not going to recess until the budget is done," Courtney said. "This thing could run up through Monday night or Tuesday morning. The start of the next fiscal year is October 1. At this point, it's hard to say how this movie ends."

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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