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Alaska needs an end to the shutdown

Posted: October 13, 2013 - 11:03pm

Americans deserve better than government by prolonged temper tantrum. I understand that Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. John Boehner don’t support the Affordable Care Act, but they and a small group of Tea Partiers shouldn’t be able to shut down the federal government because they happen to disagree with a law that has been passed in accordance with our Constitution. As one commentator said, a football team doesn’t shut down the NFL just because they lose one game.

As absurd as the GOP shutdown is, the consequences for Alaska are very real. I worked for NOAA Fisheries for 13 years until I retired as a federal employee in 2006, and I know firsthand how central the federal government is to Alaska’s economy. According to the University of Alaska’s Institute for Social and Economic Research, the federal government is the single largest driver of Alaska’s economy. Federal employment, federal contracting and federal infrastructure investments are critical for Alaska’s economic health.

Maybe that’s why both Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski voted against Ted Cruz’s proposal to shut down the federal government. Unfortunately, the House was able to shut down the government despite the Senate’s passage of a bill to keep the federal government open.

Now that the government has shut down, consider the impacts on Alaskans. An estimated 13,000 of Alaska’s 22,000 federal employees may be furloughed. Approximately 1,760 Alaska children will have their Head Start programs shut down. Disability claims and other benefits for Alaska’s 74,000 veterans are probably going to be delayed. The Social Security Administration may not be able to process newly-eligible Alaskans who apply for Social Security. Many of our federal public lands are closed, negatively impacting local economies. Many agencies like the Department of Defense, NOAA, the National Weather Service and USDA are experiencing widespread layoffs.

Our neighbors who work for these federal agencies are being sent. Their families are having wages stolen from them so Ted Cruz can promote his political career. Aspiring politicians like Joe Miller and Mead Treadwell are trying to raise campaign cash by proclaiming their support for the craziest of the Tea Partiers. Guess what? A federal shutdown doesn’t hurt politicians, but it does hurt rank-and-file civil servants. I have former colleagues who live in Juneau and could be without work for an indefinite period of time because of Ted Cruz’s politicking. That is wrong.

The Juneau Empire, KTOO, Associated Press and other Alaska press outlets have done a good job documenting the wide-ranging impacts of the government shutdown and the underlying political situation. Boehner should bring a clean continuing resolution that would keep the government running to the House floor right now. It would pass with bipartisan support, and the government shutdown would be over. Unfortunately, Boehner is afraid that bringing that bill to the floor would weaken his support among Tea Party Republicans. So be it. The Tea Party shouldn’t be allowed to hold our economy and federal government hostage any longer.

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