published Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Tennessee National Guard first state casualties of government shutdown

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Who do you blame for the shutdown, Democrats or Republicans?

NASHVILLE -- State government's first casualties from congressional Republicans' budget standoff with Democrats over the federal health care law came Tuesday in the form of unpaid furloughs for more than 1,500 Tennessee National Guard technicians and contract workers.

And more disruptions for state employees and services are on the way if Washington doesn't soon resolve the budget impasse involving the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, according to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's office.

For weeks, everyone has warned what would happen to the federal government if congressional Republicans' efforts to first defund and then delay portions of the federal Affordable Care Act through a temporary funding resolution resulted in a partial federal government shutdown.

But little noticed was the impact on state governments. Federal funding and programs account for huge shares of state budgets so inaction in Washington was bound to, as they say, roll down hill and it is now doing so.

The National Governors Association on Monday warned of "severe" repercussions for states and Haslam on Monday said "just to have an arbitrary shutdown of government that's going to impact services in a nondiscriminate way is not the right way to do it."

A spot analysis on possible impacts ordered by Haslam and released Tuesday shows just over half of Tennessee's departments and major agencies will feel the impact in coming days or weeks.

They range from having to slash staffing for the Women, Infants and Children nutritional program after Oct. 10, to possible delays in issuance of state handgun carry permits depending on cuts to the FBI, which conducts background checks.

In the state Department of Economic and Community Development, if there is a lengthy federal shutdown, infrastructure grants for communities will be affected. There would be slower reviews of environmental permits and processing of grants. The list goes on.

Within seven to 10 days, the state's worker safety program would need to be funded with state dollars. Staffing would need to be "adjusted" in a prolonged shutdown.

But the impact is right now with Tennessee's Military Department. Maj. Gen. Max Haston, Tennessee's adjutant general, quietly notified employees last week of possible furloughs if Congress and President Barack Obama failed to agree on a temporary funding resolution.

And now that is happening.

"This is an across the board furlough effecting essentially every military technician and contract employee in the Tennessee Army and Air National Guard," Haston said in a statement on Tuesday.

Haston said "there is no question that this will cause serious hardships on our employees and degrade our ability to conduct operations, but even with the government shutdown, our remaining soldiers and airmen will strive to continue to meet the challenges and ensure the security of our state and nation."

They undoubtedly will but for now, there won't be any weekend drills for guardsmen because armories are understaffed in communities from Chattanooga to Memphis.

"I think the people in Washington ought to get together and work together and solve the problems. ... It's a serious issue," said state House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Tenn. "I'm not going to cast blame. I think both sides need to look at getting as much as they can and then settling the problem, paying our bills."

But at the federal level, the blame game is in full swing.

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., during an appearance on Fox & Friends on Tuesday blamed Obama and his Democratic congressional allies for today's partial federal government shutdown and predicted the standoff will have little effect.

She accused Obama and Democrats of refusing to negotiate, saying "they wanted a government shutdown. They feel it gives them a political advantage."

Blackburn said "you may see a partial shutdown for several days. But people are probably going to realize that they can live with a lot less government than what they thought they needed."

Later in the day, Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron said congressmen should not accept any of their $170,000 paychecks while the shutdown lasts.

"Congressional Republicans are cutting off the pay of almost a million U.S. workers, but continue to pay the least productive, most wasteful, least efficient and highly paid federal workers -- themselves," Herron said in his news release. "Because congressional Republicans refuse to do their work, federal workers cannot do our work."

The fight over Obamacare and the shutdown are now likely to get entangled in the looming debate over the federal debt limit. The government is projected not to be able to pays its bills by Oct. 17.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., said he's "obviously disappointed" by the shutdown but blamed Democrats.

"I'd voted several times to keep the government open," he said. "The last overture was to go to conference with the Senate which was summarily rejected."

As to how long the shutdown lasts, Fleischmann called it an "interesting question" and cited the debt limit issue.

"That really imposes a situation that ultimately both the White House and the Senate [Democratic] majority leader, despite their comments to the contrary, are ultimately going to have to talk to us," Fleischmann said.

A majority of his 3rd Congressional District constituents are demanding something be done about Obamacare, Fleischmann said.

The congressman said the issues are "so fundamentally important in the short term and the long term to the fiscal health of country that we have to govern responsibly."

Fleischmann was dismissive of Herron's call for congressmen to forgo their pay. Provisions in the U.S. Constitution require members of Congress be paid, he pointed out.

Some members of the Tennessee delegation, including U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., are furloughing workers with Corker maintaining a "skeleton" staff. Fleischmann said he hasn't furloughed anyone because it would disrupt constituent work to help constituents on issues like Social Security.

The congressman also said he doesn't believe Republicans will be blamed for shutting the government down.

A just-released poll by Quinnipiac University says American voters overwhelmingly oppose by a 72-22 percent margin shutting down the federal government to block Obamacare. They also opposed by a 64-27 margin using the debt ceiling issue to stop Obamacare, the national poll of 1,497 voters found. The poll has a 2.5 percent margin of error.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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