Friday, February 23, 2018

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Area federal offices closed; guard personnel furloughed

Impact in Chippewa Valley was limited but still felt by workers

  • Peterson-Geoff-010216

    Peterson

    Shane Opatz

With a relatively small number of federal workers based in the Chippewa Valley, the local impact of the brief government shutdown appears to have been fairly limited.

The shutdown, sparked by the inability of congressional Republicans and Democrats to agree on a way to continue funding federal operations, ended Monday night after the Senate and House voted to pass a short-term spending bill after negotiations broke a budget impasse with a pledge from leaders to act on immigration policy next month. The measure, which would fund the government through Feb. 8, was later signed by President Donald Trump.

Still, the partial shutdown was evident in the region Monday through closed federal offices and furloughed Wisconsin National Guard personnel.

A call Monday to the U.S. Department of Agriculture service center in Altoona was representative of the response greeting residents seeking federal services during the three-day shutdown. 

“You have reached the Eau Claire farm service agency. We are not in the office at this time. We are on furlough due to the lapse in federal government funding,” a voice mail message said. “Please note that I do not have access to voice mail due to the current lapse in funding. ... We look forward to returning your message once funding has been restored.”

The Wisconsin Army National Guard reported that about 800 federal employees, or military federal technicians, in the state were furloughed during the shutdown, while another 200 such employees were classified as essential and continued working.  

The furloughs meant that about 50 service members in the state weren’t allowed to travel to military schools, new employees weren’t permitted to start work and other noncritical functions were skipped, Maj. Joy Staab said.

An additional 1,000 military members in the state worked without pay, with the expectation they would be paid after the restoration of government funding.

“Nothing that affects life or security was affected,” Staab said. “The most important thing for the citizens of Wisconsin to know is that we have 10,000 soldiers and air men that could be called to duty regardless of the status of the furlough. Despite what’s going in D.C., we stand ready to serve.” 

Geoff Peterson, chairman of the political science department at UW-Eau Claire, said Monday the impact of the shutdown likely would be minimal in the Chippewa Valley as long as it didn’t last too long because a lengthy closure could lead to a backlog of people seeking various federal services.

The idea of shutting down the government over political issues — in this case primarily immigration — is a relatively new phenomenon, Peterson said.

“Once the government shuts down, that creates attention, and that creates pressure from the public,” he said, adding that it’s hard to know who the public ultimately will blame for this shutdown, although early opinion polls indicate Republicans, as the party in control of the federal government, are bearing the brunt of it. 

The blame game revved up as soon as a deal to reopen the government appeared imminent, as Wisconsin congressmen issued a flurry of political statements.

“Enough with round after round of fighting. We now have an opportunity in the Senate to do right by the American people so we need to get to work and do it,” U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said after voting for the compromise measure. Baldwin was among the senators voting Friday to block a motion that would have prevented the shutdown.

Baldwin vowed to work in a bipartisan way to find a solution on immigration and to fund community health centers, children’s health care and the fight against the opioid epidemic. She urged her congressional colleagues and Trump to do the same and pass a long-term measure to fund the federal government.

“Instead of kicking the can down the road month after month with short-term measures that shortchange our troops and veterans, we need to fund them with a long-term budget that provides certainty,” Baldwin said in the statement. “I am committed to getting the job done on bipartisan solutions in the Senate, and it’s important that the Republican House and President Trump step up and do the same. It’s time to deliver results for the American people.”

Republicans, however, placed the blame for the shutdown squarely on Democrats.

“I’m glad Senator Baldwin and other Senate Democrats came to their senses and voted to fund the government,” U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said in a statement. “Hopefully, they will now work in good faith to secure our border, fix our horribly broken immigration system and provide a long term solution and certainty to the recipients of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).”

Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wausau, called it “foolish” for Democrats to shut the government down on Friday.

“Republicans and Democrats were having negotiations on DACA before the shutdown, and we will have DACA negotiations after the shutdown,” Duffy said in a statement. “We all want to deal with the DACA kids in a compassionate way, but they are a symptom of a broken border and immigration system. Let’s secure the border and take care of the kids. That’s the pathway for a real deal.”

Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, voted against the bill proposing the fifth government funding extension in four months, saying congressional leadership must stop with the extensions and pass a bipartisan, long-term budget to fund the government.

“It is shameful that the greatest nation on earth has resorted to funding our government for only weeks at a time,” Kind said in a statement. “These shorter-term funding bills are devastating to our military and the long-term planning we need. We must work together to pass a bipartisan year-long budget so we can get back to finding solutions to the opioid epidemic, fixing our rural infrastructure, lowering the cost of health care, and passing a Farm Bill that works for Wisconsin farmers.”

Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of the Milwaukee-based immigrants and workers rights group Voces de la Frontera, criticized Democrats for failing to stand up for immigrant youth and families by “caving to Donald Trump’s white nationalist agenda.”  Neumann-Ortiz added in a statement, “The majority of people were rightfully holding Trump, Paul Ryan and the Republican leadership accountable for their mean-spirited shutdown.” 

Contact: 715-833-9209, eric.lindquist@ecpc.com, @ealscoop on Twitter


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