It’s been more than a week since the U.S. government froze during a high-stakes squabble between Republican lawmakers and the president over federal spending and the implementation of Obamacare, and as of press time, Congressmember Lois Capps’s latest motion marked the ninth time policymakers have attempted to alleviate the standstill.
On Tuesday, Capps led a measure to give the House of Representatives an opportunity to vote on the Senate spending bill, which would have funded the federal government for the time being — until November 15 — at the negotiated rate of $986 billion and given both houses more time to reach a long-term budget compromise. “The shutdown could have ended right here,” Capps said on the House floor after the motion died. “Instead we find ourselves here, picking and choosing, and waiting for them to decide whose lucky day it is to be funded by the Republican leadership.”
Last week, Capps conducted a conference call — briefly postponed by the Capitol Hill shooting — to discuss tensions in Washington and its impact on her constituents on the Central Coast. Capps said the “misguided” and “unnecessary” decision by the “irresponsible Tea Party wing” of the Republicans in the House has seriously impacted many residents — not just government employees — throughout Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo counties.
“We’re really playing with fire,” Capps said. Employees affected in her district include those who work at the Carrizo Plain National Monument, the Goodwin Education Center near Painted Rock, Camp Roberts Historical Museum, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Los Padres National Forest, the California National Guard, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, as well as countless small businesses and those working in the private sector.
At Vandenberg Air Force Base, 816 of the nearly 1,100 civilian employees with the 30th Space Wing who were furloughed last week have returned to work. According to the U.S. Air Force website, civilians are expected to be paid retroactively; military personnel were not furloughed. “Unfortunately, the return of our civilians does not necessarily mean we are back to business as usual,” Col. Keith Balts said. “Without an approved budget, we are limited in how we spend our resources. And depending on how long this budget uncertainty will last, we may have to take additional steps with respect to our personnel or operations here on base.”
The private sector has experienced setbacks, as well. Santa Barbara Adventure Company Director Michael Cohen said he had to downsize operations dramatically because one-third of his outdoor business involves kayak trips and sea-cave tours of the Channel Islands National Park, which is currently closed to the public. Cohen added he had to cancel school field trips and corporate team-building outings — planned months in advance by customers often traveling long distances — through October 10, costing his company an estimated $33,000. He also had to scale down from 15 employees to five for the time being.
“I certainly hope it changes,” Cohen said. “My two sons, who are 5 and 7, are able to work out differences when they have a disagreement. … Congressional leaders are hurting small business and the public.” Santa Barbara Adventure Company, he went on, is currently offering a “shutdown special”: 50 percent off for all government employees joining an existing, non-islands trip, and 25 percent off gift certificates and vouchers for future island trips if visitors purchase them before the shutdown ends.
Capps is also part of efforts to ensure members of Congress are not paid during the shutdown. Further, she added that uncertainty at the national level sparked constituents — including potential start-up companies on the Central Coast — to ask: Can we rely on the federal government? “That cripples us tremendously,” Capps said, adding she plans to work hard to instill faith back into the federal government. “I want that consistency, to be a reliable partner with the private sector.”