Congress’ refusal to work together is hitting home today

July 19, 2013 

In Washington state and across our country, Americans are sick of congressional gridlock. It’s gotten so bad that one of the favorite measuring tools in Washington, D.C. – approval ratings – now peg the public’s approval of Congress at a measly 10 percent.

Although we may have gotten used to partisan battles and name-calling, it isn’t always obvious just how Congress’ problems are impacting our families and our communities.

But today, the line between Congress’ failures and devastating impacts on our communities couldn’t be clearer.

Just ask Will Silva, a former Marine and an amputee who works as a fire inspector at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Silva wants to go to work today, but thanks to sequestration, he’s been furloughed like thousands of others in the South Sound. Because he’s unpaid each Friday, he’s struggling to make his mortgage payments and support his family.

So for Silva, sequestration isn’t about politics; it’s about putting food on the table and paying the bills.

And he is far from alone.

Today, because some Republicans in Congress simply refuse to let us replace sequestration, 6,700 civilian employees like Will won’t be going to work at JBLM.

Through the rest of this fiscal year, those employees and more than 640,000 other defense workers across the country are being forced to take unpaid days off once every week because of cuts mandated by sequestration. That amounts to a 20 percent pay cut for men and women with mortgages, medical bills and tuition costs piling up.

And it’s not only the furloughed workers who are impacted. Our service members, veterans and families are hurting, too.

At JBLM today, the 911 call center and fire departments will be understaffed.

Airfields will be shuttered except for emergencies.

The military personnel office and the substance abuse center will be closed.

The Madigan Army Medical Center will be forced to close clinics. Even the Wound Care Clinic will be understaffed.

And it might sound like an overly simple explanation — that these harmful cuts are going into effect because a few members of Congress refuse to act — but in reality, that’s exactly what’s happening.

Since 2011, when gridlock drove our nation to the brink of financial default, we’ve known that we must make real changes to our federal budget to avoid the brutal, across-the-board cuts of sequestration.

In the Senate this spring, I worked with my colleagues and passed the first federal budget in more than four years that would keep Silva working full-time and replace sequestration with a balanced mix of revenues and responsible spending cuts.

But unfortunately, some of my Republican colleagues have refused to move the budget process forward. Too many of them have made a political decision to govern our country from crisis to crisis instead of addressing major issues before they impact our communities.

And because of that decision, they’re forcing unfair cuts on communities that can afford it least and wasting our opportunity to make responsible, long-term decisions.

The military has had to cut back on everything from access to medical care to crucial training exercises. Businesses that serve military communities are suffering, and local families and seniors are paying far too great a price.

That’s not the way to solve our nation’s financial issues, and it’s not fair to people such as Silva.

So I’m urging my colleagues to work with us now, before the next crisis, to start a budget conference so we can bridge the divide between the House and Senate budgets and address the issues we all agree are hurting our country.

We cannot afford reminders each Friday of the consequences of more gridlock and inaction.

Patty Murray is the senior United States senator from Washington state.

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