This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 3, 2013: Although he’s no fan of Obamacare, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt said Wednesday that it was a mistake for House Republicans to have forced a government shutdown unless the health insurance program was repealed.
“It just simply wouldn’t work,” said Blunt, R-Mo., in a telephone conference call with reporters, noting that the shutdown began on the same day as enrollment began for the health insurance exchanges, a key provision of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Blunt explained that House Republicans had “no potential of success” when it came to scuttling the health insurance program that is President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement since taking office.
Blunt added, however, that he still supported pressing the administration to delay implementation of the individual mandate for acquiring insurance, now set to go into effect in 2014.
But overall, when it comes to the shutdown, “there’s plenty of blame to go around,” he said. That included Obama, who the senator contended had failed “to lead.”
How long will the shutdown last? “If it doesn’t end in the next couple days,” Blunt said, he believes that the budget debate will become enmeshed in the looming congressional fight over the federal debt ceiling. The ceiling will be breached later this month unless it is increased.
Blunt added that he disliked the “rifle shot” approach of some House Republicans, who are seeking to pass bills reopening certain parts of government, while keeping the others closed. Blunt said he believed that such a move left out critical government operations, while perhaps funding others of less importance.
He noted, for example, that "half of the CIA is on leave," because of the shutdown, which Blunt said threatened the nation's security.
Even so, on Thursday, Blunt did support several such "rifle shot'' bills that focused on reopening specific government actions, such as museums.
“Senate Republicans don't want a government shutdown. Unfortunately, Majority Leader Reid and his Democrat colleagues who control the Senate would rather continue waging a partisan battle than restore common-sense funding for our National Guardsmen and women, veterans' services, life-saving cancer research, and national parks and museums." Blunt said in a floor speech. "Just as Congress passed legislation to ensure our men and women in uniform receive paychecks during the shutdown, it makes sense to ensure these operations continue until Congress can reach an agreement to reopen the government”
Delegation tangles over World War II Memorial
Also on Wednesday, Blunt joined several other members of Congress – including U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and U.S. Reps. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin; Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth; and Jason Smith, R-Salem – at Washington’s World War II Memorial, where several Missouri veterans groups were gathering.
A partisan controversy had erupted over the memorial, which was initially closed because of the shutdown. The National Park Service has subsequently opened the Washington memorials for “First Amendment” purposes, but other events – such as weddings or meetings – can’t be held until the shutdown ends.
Without mentioning each other by name, McCaskill and the Missouri Republicans – particularly Wagner – tangled over who was to blame for memorial’s initial closure.
Wagner delivered a floor speech that said, in part, “This memorial is a monument to the spirit and sacrifice of our veterans, and yet (Senate leader) Harry Reid and the president decided to slam the door on the American people and block the House from providing benefits to our nation’s heroes and keeping our national treasures open.”
Wagner then renewed her attacks against Obamacare.
McCaskill later issued a pointed statement: “It was an honor to join several of my colleagues in welcoming and thanking Missouri veterans for their service to our country. This very special memorial properly pays tribute to those who served and fought for the freedoms we enjoy. Unfortunately, several people decided to use today to score cheap political points on the backs of veterans, which to me is disgraceful.”
McCaskill noted that she’s the daughter of a World War II veteran.
Federal workers, allies hold local protests
Back in St. Louis, furloughed federal workers and their allies participated in several protest events Wednesday afternoon.
Representatives of a number of progressive groups gathered near the Veterans Administration Building downtown to decry the government shutdown.
The rally – spearheaded by Organizing for America – attracted several dozen people, some of whom waved signs that said, among other things, “Enough Already.”
“Enough is enough and enough already,” said Corey Black, who served in the Marines from 2002 to 2007. “Everybody’s got their own bills. The least they could do is figure out a budget for this government.”
Some representatives of environmental, organized labor and senior citizen advocacy organizations read off statistics about the shutdown's impact on the St. Louis area.
John Hickey of the Missouri Sierra Club noted that the shutdown meant tourists couldn’t visit the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial – which includes the Gateway Arch and the Old Courthouse.
Missouri Alliance for Retired Americans President David R. Meinell said, “We’re all out here for the same reason – to point the finger at the Tea Party for holding our government hostage with their tactics.”
From Wednesday's rally against the federal government shutdown
“You folks know that I’m trying to choose my words wisely,” Meinell said. “And one of these days, the American public is going to wake up and spit and get their taste out of their mouth.”
At least two state legislators – state Sens. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, and Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City – were on hand to show support for the rally.
Nasheed said the shutdown will be a campaign issue. “We are going to have to get the extremists out of Congress,” she said. “While we are being impacted today, in 2016 we’re going to have so much ammunition that we will be able to take control of that House as a result of their buffoonery today.”
Furloughed members of the American Federation of Government Employees and their allies reported showing up outside the district offices of at least two members of Congress: Wagner and U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville.
A representative of Shimkus’ staff met with the group at his office in Maryville, Ill. Wagner’s office in west St. Louis County was closed.