July 21, 2024

Oregon Democrats, federal employees call for action as shutdown looms

The Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Photo by 12019 from Pixabay
September 29, 2023

More than 28,000 federal employees live in Oregon and will be furloughed or work without pay

By Julia Shumway, Oregon Capital Chronicle

With less than 36 hours until the federal government shuts down, frustrated Democratic members of Oregon’s congressional delegation and federal employees called on congressional Republicans to hurry up and pass a continuing resolution keeping the government open. 

Oregon’s four Democratic House members and Oregon-based federal employees who are officers in their unions held a news conference Friday afternoon. Congress has until 11:59 p.m. Saturday to approve continued funding for government agencies, or hundreds of thousands of federal workers will be furloughed and hundreds of thousands others will be forced to work without pay until the shutdown ends. 

Most national parks and recreation areas would close, federal funding for food programs would run out within a few days and Oregonians who need help with taxes, passports or student loans — with payments resuming in October after being paused for more than three years because of the pandemic — would have trouble finding anyone to answer the phone. 

The threat of a shutdown comes despite a majority of the House wanting to pass a continuing resolution and keep the government open. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-California, has so far refused to work with Democrats to pass such a proposal, a move that could lead to Republicans ousting him as speaker.

Now, according to Oregon’s Democrats, there’s some talk about a group of Republicans bucking McCarthy and voting with Democrats to bring a continuing resolution to the floor for a vote. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, noted that it would take only four Republicans to vote alongside every House Democrat, saying Oregon Republican Reps. Cliff Bentz and Lori Chavez-DeRemer should do that.

“I used to represent 40,000 people in Lori Chavez-DeRemer’s congressional district,” Blumenauer said. “I represented those people for 10 years. And I can tell you they don’t support cutting 30% of government spending and forcing the military and air traffic control to work without pay.”

Bentz, who represents Oregon’s 2nd District, has not commented publicly on the shutdown. Chavez-DeRemer, who represents the 5th District,  said in a release Thursday that she’s trying to keep the wheels oiled by supporting a bipartisan proposal to fund the government through Jan. 11 and  voting for the three Republican budget bills in the House. Those three measures don’t have the support to pass in the Senate. 

“As promised, I’m doing everything I can to prevent the government from shutting down this weekend, and tonight was a small step in the right direction,” she said. “As this process continues to play out, I’ve made sure that my pay will be withheld until we can get the job done.”

Rep. Val Hoyle, who along with Chavez-DeRemer and Democratic Rep. Andrea Salinas represents a competitive district, said McCarthy and other House Republicans need to allow a vote on a bipartisan spending package introduced in the Senate. 

“We need that bill on the floor,” she said. “It would pass. Kevin McCarthy just needs to do one thing, and that’s actually work for the good of the American people and stand up to the bullies in Congress.”

Impacts in Oregon

Oregon will continue providing food benefits under the SNAP and WIC programs through October with support from the state Department of Human Services and Oregon Health Authority, said Susannah Morgan, CEO of the Oregon Food Bank. But food pantries are bracing for increased demand from 28,000 federal workers and contractors who will miss paychecks if the government shuts down.  

“Whether this shutdown lasts a day, a week or a month, we know that children, adults and seniors throughout the region will face hardship without a functional, inclusive federal government,” Morgan said. 

She added that anyone who needs food should visit to find assistance sites near them. 

Yvonne Angel, a longtime nurse with the Department of Veterans Affairs, is the president of the American Federation of Government Employees 2157, which represents nearly 4,000 VA employees in the Portland area. VA facilities are already understaffed, and a shutdown will only make it worse, she said. 

“Employees cannot and should not wait up to five weeks or more to get paid,” Angel said. “People need to eat. People need to pay the bills. This impact will not only affect VA employees, but if the VA employees are affected, our veterans will also be affected – our veterans who fought for our country, their care should not be halted in any way whatsoever because of a government shutdown.” 

VA officials have said that a shutdown won’t prevent veterans from seeing health care providers and obtaining other services.

At the Social Security Administration, about 53,000 employees expect to work without pay in a shutdown, said Laura Novakoski,  secretary of AFGE Local 3937, which represents Social Security employees in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska. 

Some of those employees already started cutting non-essential household spending. Others are looking for second jobs they can work in the evenings or weekends to pay their bills.

“Every disability or retirement claim that we process, every Social Security application, represents a real person and a real family, and they rely on us to give them quick, compassionate service,” Novakoski said. “And we need to be able to be taken care of to be able to take care of them. We are not pieces on a game board. They are putting our lives and our mental health at risk.”

A shutdown would also wreak havoc with the implementation of new semiconductor initiatives in Oregon and other states, Salinas said. The $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act included $52 billion Oregon and other states are competing for a share of, and the state approved $500 million in grants, loans and tax credits to grow the semiconductor industry. 

“From what I understand we’re already seeing private investment in Oregon as well,” Salinas said in a Thursday interview. “Business likes certainty. They have to be able to plan and so does our state Legislature and the funds that they’ve committed. It is very irresponsible that this MAGA Republican conference on the House side is holding the entire House hostage on this, has no plan forward and is just bringing more chaos to the situation right now.”

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican who’s leading a small group of Republicans blocking passage of a continuing resolution, has said the House can only pass spending bills on a single subject. House Republicans on Thursday night approved bills providing funds for the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of State, but those measures wouldn’t pass the Democrat-controlled Senate. 

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Oregon, said passing single appropriation bills would be ideal — but that process would take months of work, and the bills need to be bipartisan, given the split Congress. 

“You can’t start the week that the government’s about to shut down, and you certainly can’t do it by tomorrow,” she said. 

Blumenauer, the longest-serving representative from Oregon, has been through five shutdowns, and he said he knows how this one will end. The only question is how long it takes. 

“What will happen is that they ultimately will realize that they can’t hold the American people hostage, and that what they want is not something that a majority of Republicans even want, let alone the House, let alone the Senate and Democrats,” Blumenauer said in an earlier interview with the Capital Chronicle. “We’ve done this before.”

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix, Arizona.

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