Idahoans to congressmen: Continue shutdown until President Obama gives up Obamacare

But businesses, federal workers and local economies across the state are feeling the pain.

rbarker@idahostatesman.comOctober 13, 2013 

  • INL WORKERS COULD BE OFF THE JOB

    IDAHO FALLS - About 3,700 employees at the Idaho National Laboratory will stop reporting for work if the government shutdown continues.

    About 2,600 workers with Battelle Energy Alliance would stop reporting for work Friday, and another 1,100 with Idaho Cleanup Project would be furloughed beginning Oct. 21, The Post Register reported.

    It's unclear what would happen with another 600 employees at the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project.

    Battelle Energy Alliance said employees can use personal leave to get paid during the curtailment.

    "I understand how disruptive this curtailment will be to many of you and your families," Idaho National Laboratory Director John Grossenbacher said in a memo to workers. "I am confident that we are responding appropriately and have an executable plan to return to work as soon as adequate funds are available."

    Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said he hoped the situation would force an agreement to reopen affected parts of the federal government. He said he could support a continuing resolution to do that without linking it to the Affordable Care Act for a short time, possibly two weeks.

    The Associated Press

A Sandpoint airplane manufacturer can't deliver any planes because it can't register them with the Federal Aviation Administration. Rangers are chasing loggers from the woods, keeping them from salvaging beetle-killed timber.

Most of the 11,750 federal workers in Idaho didn't get a paycheck Friday and thousands of the private contractors who work at places like Mountain Home Air Force Base and the Idaho National Laboratory will face furloughs this week if the partial government shutdown - entering its third week on Tuesday - continues.

Despite these impacts, calls to Idaho's congressional delegation are running two to one or more for continuing the shutdown until President Barack Obama defunds or delays his health program. That's why all four of Idaho's Republican congressmen have steadfastly - up to now - stood their ground opposing reopening the government.

With the Treasury Department predicting the government will hit the debt ceiling Thursday and shutdown impacts cascading with each day, the uncertainty is killing business, said Alex LaBeau, president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry.

"You look at the Washington, D.C., political process right now and it appears they are only playing politics for an election, not worrying about the economy," LaBeau said.

LaBeau doesn't like Obama's health law, but he called the effort to defund it by shutting down the government "a foolish approach."

Obama met Thursday with House Republicans and Friday with Senate Republicans. They continued to talk into the weekend about a deal that could at least allow the government to raise the debt ceiling for a few weeks. But it's unclear whether the government shutdown would end.

Ending the shutdown may hinge on future talks to forge an agreement on the nation's deficit and debt. Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo, a member of the bipartisan Gang of Six that urged federal leaders in 2011 to push for such a bargain, thinks one is still possible.

"In the midst of the political battles that are being waged, there is significant negotiation going on," Crapo said.

Sen. Jim Risch was in the same Friday meeting with Obama, but he was not optimistic the "grand bargain" will be a part of this deal. Risch quoted Obama: "We've been chasing that unicorn for three years now."

Instead, Risch said he expects the deal that would end both the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling will be "a patch, a scratch and a Band-Aid like it usually takes to get through."

BIG PART OF THE ECONOMY

The federal workforce of 11,750 in Idaho accounts for $800 million in annual income and creates - through what economists term a "multiplier effect" - another 38,000 jobs in other sectors statewide, said Will Jenson, an Idaho Department of Labor economist in Idaho Falls.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Idaho Falls and Bonneville County, where a quarter of the economy depends on INL. Battelle Energy Alliance, the main contractor at the Department of Energy research center, has told its workers they will begin furloughs Friday if the shutdown doesn't end.

These furloughs are even tougher on the economy because, unlike federal workers, contractors aren't expected to get paid.

"We have not had to have any furloughs, but the longer this goes on, the harder managing those impacts becomes," said Ann Riedesel of North Wind, an Idaho Falls-based environmental, engineering, and construction service company that has government contracts nationwide.

Combine these business impacts with veteran disability payments, nutrition programs for women and infants, and dozens of state programs funded by the federal government, and the effects of the shutdown become apparent.

CLIPPING WINGS

Quest Aircraft Co. in Sandpoint manufactures a 10-seat turboprop utility airplane that can land in remote airstrips. Its business has taken off and it employs 250 people. But the government shutdown has thrown a wrench in the works.

"The immediate impact is we can't deliver airplanes," said Julie Stone, a Quest spokeswoman. "Everything has to be processed through the FAA."

The shutdown has also complicated life around Mountain Home Air Force Base.

In the last two weeks, airmen and pilots learned they would get paid, but some private contractors have been forced to furlough workers while other contractors have been allowed to go back to work.

"It's a roller coaster," said Mountain Home Mayor Tom Rist. "Your Main Street businesses, they have suffered."

He is puzzled why so many people are urging Idaho's congressmen to continue the shutdown to kill the Affordable Care Act.

"I can tell you from what I'm hearing, people want this over with," Rist said.

BUSINESS WANTS A BALANCED BUDGET

LaBeau said the real issue is the debt and he wants the delegation to work on balancing the budget, not defunding Obama's health law.

"The business community wants the federal government to get its fiscal house in order," LaBeau said.

Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson said the delegation has heard from people who want the shutdown to continue, but it also is hearing from businesses.

"Unless and until we find the courage in Congress to forge a comprehensive solution to our budget challenges, we are going to continue flailing from one fiscal crisis to the next," Simpson said.

A larger deal that would reform entitlements and taxes to reduce the long-term debt, Simpson said, "is the only real way out of this mess.

"The American people are ready for the tough decisions and difficult sacrifices that come with actually solving our budget crisis over the long term," he said.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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