The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
SHUTDOWN: ‘Plenty of blame to go around,’ McDonnell says
RICHMOND—As Congress appeared headed toward a government shutdown Monday night, Gov. Bob McDonnell said Virginia is prepared to maintain critical government services.
But he also said both parties bear some blame for the political brinksmanship that has brought Congress to this point, called on his Republican colleagues to face the reality that Democrats won’t agree to defund the president’s signature accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, and urged them to pass a spending resolution to keep the government running.
The federal fiscal year ended Monday with no spending plan in place to keep the government open. In the days and hours leading up to Monday night’s deadline, House Republicans insisted that a continuing resolution to keep funding the government include a year’s delay of the ACA’s provisions. President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats have said that’s a non-starter and called on Republicans to approve a “clean” spending bill to keep the government open.
McDonnell told reporters Monday afternoon that there’s “plenty of blame to go around,” but said he doesn’t support his GOP colleagues’ tactics and opposes a shutdown.
“While I think the president has failed to lead at the same time my Republican friends have got to understand there is no way on earth the president and the [Democratic Senate] are going to vote to defund Obamacare,” McDonnell said. “Ultimately Obamacare will fail under its own weight. But it is absolutely wrong to threaten to shut down the government over this issue. … This is not the battle to pick at the beginning of the fiscal year… While I understand the policy, it’s not going to happen.”
McDonnell said he has spoken to some of Virginia’s congressional delegation recently, although not House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor of the 7th District, who is pushing for the ACA delay as a condition of passing a spending resolution.
However, McDonnell said, all of Virginia’s delegation knows where he stands, and that he opposes both the ACA and a government shutdown over the health law.
He and state Secretary of Finance Ric Brown told reporters the state has provisions to keep critical services running if federal dollars dry up.
If absolutely necessary, they said, state leaders can borrow from the state’s own reserves, or use a contingency fund McDonnell put in place to help soften the blow of federal budget cuts.
Brown said a federal shutdown won’t affect mandatory programs, only discretionary ones, and that about two-thirds of the money Virginia gets from the federal government comes through mandatory programs like Medicaid and children’s health programs.
He said it will also take some time for federal dollars in different programs to dry up if they’re cut off as of Tuesday.
A separate problem for state revenues is the fact that Virginia has some 172,000 civilian federal workers. Those workers would not all be sent home during a shutdown, but those who are would be unlikely to spend money, which will eventually be felt in the state’s sales tax and income tax revenue.
McDonnell and Brown said state agencies are evaluating their options and have until this Friday to report back to the administration on how a shutdown will impact them and how they could mitigate it.
“We are on top of it. We do have these plans,” McDonnell said.
He may be explaining some of those plans to the national bond rating agencies in New York Thursday. McDonnell and the leaders of the General Assembly money committees were already scheduled for an annual meeting with those agencies, which determine the state’s bond rating.
Meanwhile, the Fredericksburg area’s congressmen, both Republicans, support their party’s position to tie a delay in the ACA to the spending resolution.
In a radio interview Monday morning, Rep. Rob Wittman, R–1st, said the House Republican bill that tied the two issues together was “a reasonable bill.”
“I do think we need to continue government operations, but at the same time, we absolutely have to stand against what I see as a terribly troubled law, especially how it’s affecting people’s lives,” Wittman said. “We also have an obligation to keep the government running.”
Cantor, in a statement over the weekend, said delaying the ACA’s insurance mandate for a year for individuals is “basic fairness.”
In another statement on Monday afternoon, he said the federal law exempts Congressmen and others from the requirements applied to everyday people.
“Delaying the individual mandate and withdrawing special exemptions for Congress is the fair thing to do, and I encourage Senate Democrats to keep the government open, rather than close it in order to protect themselves and their friends,” Cantor said.
The federal health care marketplaces, a major component of the ACA for individuals to shop for health insurance, are due to open tomorrow. That will not be delayed by a federal government shutdown.
Democrats have urged Republicans in the House to agree to a “clean” spending bill, one that funds the government without adding in the ACA issue.
The Senate, where Democrats hold the majority, has passed such a bill, with the support of Virginia’s two Democratic senators, Sen. Tim Kaine and Sen. Mark Warner.
In a statement Monday afternoon after the Senate had plucked the House amendments on the ACA off the spending measure, Sen. Tim Kaine said the Senate had compromised by agreeing to House budget numbers. He called on Republicans to approve a spending resolution.
“The choice is once again in the hands of House Republicans—accept our compromise offer that’s been on the table since last week to avert a government shutdown, or keep using the threat of shutdown to make an ideological point over health care,” Kaine said.
In a statement Monday afternoon, Warner called on House leadership to allow a vote on a “clean” spending resolution.
“It is disappointing that the House majority is prepared to shut down the federal government in its continuing ideological opposition to the Affordable Care Act,” Warner said. “This is not a responsible way to conduct our nation’s business. It threatens the economic recovery. It also is not fair to target the federal workforce to bear the brunt of this dysfunction.”
Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028