D.C. Council Member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Arlington County Board Member Walter Tejada (D) join the Politics Hour crew in the studio.
As the federal government shutdown entered its second day, legislators whose districts have been particularly hard hit began looking for ways to minimize the local impact. Using a bill from the last federal shutdown in 1996 and 1997 as a model, nearly a dozen House lawmakers proposed a bill to provide back pay to furloughed workers. And in D.C., a temporary reserve fund kept the city government open even as its permanent budget remained tied up under the budget impasse. Kojo speaks with two legislators who are working to ease the crisis for local workers, even as Congress continues its budget stalemate.
- Eleanor Holmes Norton Member, U.S. House of Representatives (D-D.C.)
- Scott Rigell Member, U.S. House of Representatives (R-Va.)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, how Honest Tea came by its name, its success and its ownership by Coca-Cola. But first, more than 800,000 federal workers are entering their second day of a government shutdown and the pain level on a scale of 0 to 10 is quickly rising.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIOn Capitol Hill, finger-pointing and political stunts continue to lead to little progress and furloughed workers are starting to envision days of no pay stretching out before them. It's a nerve-wracking stalemate that's spurring some local lawmakers into action.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIRather than passing a clean resolution to keep the government funded, a group of House lawmakers wants to pass parts of the resolution piecemeal and nowhere is that request more urgent than here in the District of Columbia where a temporary reserve fund is keeping the government open even as the city's permanent budget remains tied up on Capitol Hill.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut time is running short and funds will dry up. So how long could this shutdown last and what's next on Capitol Hill? Joining us by phone to discuss this is Scott Rigell. He's a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He's a Republican from Virginia. Congressman Rigell, thank you for joining us.
REP. SCOTT RIGELLKojo, I appreciate the opportunity, thank you.
NNAMDIYesterday you joined Representative Jim Moran and Congressman Frank Wolf, Democrat and Republican of Virginia respectively in introducing the Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act that would pay federal workers for the time they lost during the shutdown.
NNAMDIBefore we talk about that proposal, give me an idea of how this shutdown is affecting your constituents in the 2nd District of Virginia which encompasses Hampton Roads and Norfolk among other areas.
RIGELLYes, Kojo. I have an incredible district to serve and represent, Virginia's 2nd Congressional District. It is home to more men and women in uniform, active duty and retired, than any other of the 434 other Congressional Districts. It's a great honor.
RIGELLThere's economic pain certainly being felt across the nation and I think it's particularly acute in Virginia's 2nd Congressional District. We're already feeling the adverse effects of sequestration and then to layer upon that a furlough as a result of the, our inability to come together and make good decisions in Congress and get a bill over to the White House to sign, is adding more pain.
RIGELLAnd it's really hurting our economy. It is hurting hardworking American families and it's time now to fully fund the federal government. I am proud of the fight that we've fought as Republicans.
NNAMDIIndeed, you tweeted yesterday and quoting here "We fought the good fight, time for a clean CR.". Why do you feel it's time to move on now and end this shutdown?
RIGELLWell, as we made concession after concession as House Republicans, and I see it that way, each and every offer that we made was a concession from our previous offer. I think each one was made in good faith. And we got down to where we were simply asking for a one-year delay of the individual mandate and also having the subsidies for Congressional health care removed.
RIGELLI think both of those were wise. Even if one believes that the Affordable Care Act -- which I refer to now as the Unaffordable Care Act, even if one holds the view that that's good legislation because of some of the problems I think that implementation of it, slowing it down was really the right path for our country.
RIGELLAnd you know, we fought that good fight. We kept sending things over to the Senate. We got the equivalent response, I guess, in layman's terms of pound sand. I mean, there was really no response whatsoever from the Senate. That was terribly frustrating. But once we went past midnight, got into a full shutdown, it seemed to me the best path is to fully fund the government and to, you know, to fight another day.
NNAMDIOur guest is Republican...
RIGELLThat's my best counsel to my colleagues.
NNAMDIOur guest is Republican Congressman Scott Rigell. He's a member of the House of Representatives from Virginia. You can join the conversation at 800-433-8850 or you can send email to email@example.com. Congressman Rigell, based on your conversations with your Republican colleagues so far, how many of them in your view are with you? Are there enough to pass a clean resolution?
RIGELLAh, not enough at this moment, there is an increasing number. It's my best assessment right now, Kojo, is that there are 15 of us who are, you know, of like mind on this matter. I'm hopeful that we'll find more. I do believe that there is some momentum in that direction.
RIGELLAnd I think the point you made in your opening comments that, you know, the pressure and the pain is increasing and it will with each day that passes so this is what I've outlined to my colleagues, those who think that, you know, this is the time for a real showdown. I've said, okay, well, let's walk through this.
RIGELLDoes going into a fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh day, however far out, you know, that one might want to contemplate, do those additional days of pain both to and damage really to our military and to our economy, does that advance our cause? Does that advance what we're trying to accomplish?
RIGELLI've come to the conclusion it doesn't. That this doesn't advance our cause in what we're trying to accomplish and so that's why I've said it's time to pass what's referred to as a clean resolution, that is, though it would be a reluctant vote on my part, it would actually be the best vote given the alternatives that we are facing right now, is to fully fund the government and not have the hardworking folks of our district and across the country, our federal workers pay the price for this.
NNAMDIHow about the bill you signed on to providing retroactive pay? Do you think it will pass as it did in the last shutdown?
RIGELLWell, I think there's some reason to be optimistic about that. Kojo, my dad, Ike (sp?) Rigell, he worked out at Cape Kennedy for NASA all my life, growing up. He launched rockets there during the Apollo era. What a tremendous time that was. I never watched a person work any harder than my dad. His dinner so often was either in the refrigerator or the oven because, you know, he was at work.
RIGELLAnd he was at work so often before I even got up in the morning. The reason I share that with you is that our federal workforce are hardworking folks and I really don't see -- it's not right and it's not fair in my view that they are paying the price for the dysfunction here in Washington.
RIGELLSo that's why I was a leader in this and a leader in the sense that I'm among the first to sign onto Mr. Moran's bill. It's a good bill. I'm glad that my friend and colleague, Jim Moran advanced it. Frank Wolf is on it, as you mentioned.
RIGELLIt's just the right thing to do. So I hope that we get this budget impasse resolved because it. You don't want to continue to pay people for not -- if they're not able to show up to work. I know they want to come to work so that's what we're working toward.
NNAMDIThank you very much for joining us, Congressman Rigell.
RIGELLThank you so much.
NNAMDIScott Rigell is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He's a Republican from the Commonwealth of Virginia. Joining us now by telephone is Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. She's a delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the District of Columbia. Congresswoman Norton, thank you for joining us.
REP. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTONAlways a pleasure, Kojo.
NNAMDILast night, lawmakers attempted to pass pieces of the continuing resolution one at a time in an effort to fund essential elements of the federal government. The top of the list of course was funding for the District of Columbia. It did not pass, but in a passionate speech on the floor, you said the district should not be just another thing to appropriate. What's your next move in this situation?
NORTONWell, Kojo, I don't have any alternative but to continue to press to get the city's local funds out of this net where it's been caught with federal appropriations. Now I recognize that I have very much of an uphill fight because of the president's strategy, the Democrats' strategy and the strategy, frankly, they must take against letting out the appropriations submitted at the time.
NORTONThe way that would happen, Kojo, is that they have not taken the Affordable Health Care Act off the table so they've left them out until they got the parts of the Affordable Health Care Act and then, of course, they'd hold that up again.
NORTONNow do understand that the Affordable Health Care Act is mandatory spending, like social security and Medicare so most of it is out. I believe only about 10 or 15 percent of it is appropriated. So it shows you the futility of the strategy and, frankly, I think both sides are caught in a no-exit strategy.
NORTONEach has a goal. The Republicans continue to have the goal of now delaying the Affordable Health Care Act and the Democrats continue to have the goal of getting a clean bill. What I think is happening and the reason I have to continue to fight for the District of Columbia is that we're already feeling it.
NORTONWe're not going to be able to meet our amount of payment of $8 million. If we did that would deplete the contingency funds that we are using to pay our D.C. workers. We only have enough to pay them for a little more than a couple of weeks. So the district is going to face its own district crisis if it is held up there throughout this ordeal.
NORTONAnd my own prognosis -- and I have no inside information, there is no inside here. But I believe that they're going to keep this going at least until the middle of October when you get to the debt ceiling. And if they do, you'll see how long we're in this for and the district will have run out of contingency money to pay D.C. employees.
NORTONWe're facing a very real test of the difference between a city and a federal appropriation.
NNAMDIDo you think the bill you signed on to providing retroactive pay will pass as it did during the course of the last shutdown?
NORTONI think that that is in doubt because the Republicans have been so entirely anti-federal worker that the precedent and that has been the precedent whenever employees have been locked out, may not stand so I'm feeling it both ways.
NORTONWe have perhaps the largest contingent of federal employees living here in the District of Columbia. I certainly can't do anything to get them out because they are in every conceivable agency. But I am starting to make a distinction between $8 billion dollars in local funds and the federal appropriations which are of a different order of magnitude and a different species of bill.
NNAMDIAnd I think you made that distinction fairly clear last night. But speaking of federal employees, here is Keith in Washington, D.C. Keith, you are on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi Keith, are you there?
KEITHYeah, I am a federal worker who is affected by this and you know, I go back and I do want to echo what the Congressman just said. We will get our money. I mean, the Republicans aren't going to leave us hanging. And, you know, I've watched news reports about contractors. There are a lot of contractors still working because of their budgets.
KEITHThe money is already there. They just have to have one employee from the government present for them to be on site. And you know, this is just a total disrespect towards themselves. This all could have been avoided. The only thing I could think of, why they're doing this, is because of who Barack Obama is.
KEITHAnd you know, this may be farfetched what I'm getting ready to say, but this is how the Civil War started and I haven't seen anything in between that is just this bad. I mean, I'm getting ready to go down (word?).
NNAMDIWell, I've got to tell you, Congresswoman Norton, you were around for the last shutdown. Keith says he hasn't seen anything in his lifetime this bad. What say you?
NORTONWell, he thinks, and I hope he is right, that the Republicans "won't leave us out there." We're talking about federal employees who have had three years of no raises, were caught in a sequester when that could easily have had them listed, in fact, we didn't have to get into it in the first place.
NORTONSo all I can say is if their own federal employees continue to go at them they will understand that on top of the multiple furloughs they've taken already that a, what looks like it may be several weeks of furloughs is too much to ask of anybody and maybe for that reason they will in fact do what some of us don't see in the cards now but certainly very much hope for. I'm on the Moran-Wolf bill and you see that is a bipartisan bill.
NORTONScott Rigell, who you just had on, is on that bill. So at least, unlike what we're going through at the moment, that has some bipartisan support.
NNAMDIBut here's the irony of that bill, Congresswoman Norton. We got an email from David who said: "Is it fair for taxpayers to pay the workers for the days they were not working. Why not let them continue to work if they're going to get paid for their time ultimately anyway?"
NORTONWell, I guess we're going around in circles, of course.
NORTONThey want to work, but what happens when they're innocent bystanders to a political fight? You notice that members of Congress are still being paid.
NORTONWhy are we being paid and our employees not being paid? Perhaps this is guilt money. But when you consider that federal employees have already taken it in the gut, I mean, even the Republicans may decide why shoot them in the back and perhaps give them the back pay. They're not going to put them back to work because their strategy is to keep coming forward with little pieces of bills that they think are popular until they run out of those maybe and then I don't think they know what to do.
NNAMDIAnd because this is so much about the Affordable Care Act, allow me to go to Ramon in Greenbelt, Md. who apparently wants to talk about his own situation with that. Ramon, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RAMONHi Kojo. Hi everybody, so yes, I've a question. I just want to know, what is so horrible about this health care law? Because you know, I have own business. I don't (unintelligible) calling (word?) calling to learn more about the (word?) to get good jobs. But my problem now is I'm paying $200 plus $6,000 deductible and I'm feeling that, you know, I'm not going to be able to continue much longer, you know, with those prices.
RAMONWhen I look at the Obama Care website to see how much, what's going to cost for me to go, you know, to get an insurance through the new plan, it is $1,000 per year.
NNAMDISo it's going...
RAMONSo, $1000 per year, I'm paying $200 per month now. So what is so horrible about this new law? Because I really don't see it.
NNAMDIRamon says, Congresswoman Norton, his premium would be going down substantially under the Affordable Care Act so he wants to know, what's the brouhaha all about? He's a small business owner.
NORTONWell, I think he ought to consider calling his member of the Senate or Congress because what they're trying to say is that it'll cost them more. It's a disaster and they're not, of course, taking into account what I think may be happening for Ramon. And there are supplements available for small business people and, of course, there are policies at every level of income.
NORTONAnd there's no question but that the more people in the pool, the less it's going to cost everybody. And what we're seeing is there are going to be more. There are more people in the pool. You see these websites are -- people want to get on them so badly that they're collapsing. So I think, if anything, the evidence is just as Ramon says, that people want this health care and they may have a hard time figuring out why anyone would want to close down the government to keep them from getting it.
NNAMDICongresswoman Norton, final question, what do you see as the possibility or likelihood of a vote on a clean resolution, a clean continuing funding resolution?
NORTONWell, everyone thought, well, maybe they will satisfy their far-right wing Tea Party people by closing down for a few days and then everyone will come to their senses when they see where the American people are. Well, we now see where the American people are. Overwhelming Democrats and Republicans, more than 70 percent, oppose this shutdown over the Affordable Health Care Act.
NORTONAnd yet, witness the piecemeal approach as they show no signs of going to the table and trying or anyone coming forward with a solution. And the Democrats, of course, see that the people are with them so they have no incentive to move. Therefore, what I see happening is this terrible crisis, especially for our federal employees and people who depend upon their services, lasting at least until October 17th when the debt ceiling runs out and we roll that crisis into this crisis.
NNAMDIAnother 15 days is the informed speculation of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. Thank you for joining us.
NORTONAlways a pleasure.
NNAMDIEleanor Holmes Norton is the delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives from the District of Columbia. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, Honest Tea, how it came by its name, its success and its current ownership by Coca-Cola. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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