By Tom Cole
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — As I explained in numerous town hall meetings back in August, government shutdown is harmful to hard-working Americans, and using it as a strategy to repeal Obamacare is sure to fail, especially when its namesake is in the White House.
To be clear, I oppose Obamacare. I voted against it and, since passage, I have voted 41 times to either repeal it fully or partially. Seven of these bills have actually become law, modifying the Affordable Care Act and saving taxpayers $62 billion.
I’ve also consistently spoken out against it. But in my opinion, government shutdown is a bad idea and is ill-advised.
Shutdown is a disruption and an unwelcome reality that we never wanted to face because it produces grave consequences, including the unfair furlough of more than 800,000 federal workers and a lapse in government services. It’s a situation that I have warned against for weeks and weeks.
However, even though the House has passed numerous measures that would fund the government, the Senate and the White House refuse to negotiate a solution. They even rejected the House suggestion that we form a conference committee, made up of members from both chambers, to find a common-sense compromise.
This disagreement is no longer primarily about Obamacare; it’s about a raw power grab by President Obama, whose idea of compromise is “my way or the highway.” Throughout this entire process, he has proven to be aloof and unwilling to engage with lawmakers in a productive way.
As president of the United States, he is effectively the CEO of our country. I don’t know of any CEO of a large American corporation who would refuse to engage in negotiations to prevent company closure, yet this is exactly what the president has done.
Instead of displaying leadership and service, he simply travels the country, essentially making campaign-style speeches. While he pointedly refuses to negotiate with Republicans in the United States House of Representatives, he proudly states his willingness to negotiate with Russia, Syria and Iran. Something is seriously wrong with this picture.
While the president and the Senate refuse to meet us halfway or provide an actual alternative, the House is still finding ways to lessen the blow of this shutdown.
I am working with my House colleagues to pass legislation that will fund certain portions of the government. This includes the passage of the Pay Our Military Act, which received unanimous support in both chambers and was signed into law before the shutdown occurred Oct. 1.
Unfortunately, the administration still needlessly furloughed thousands of civilians across the country, including 2,900 individuals at Tinker Air Force Base and more than 2,200 at Fort Sill in Lawton.
After this obvious misstep, I joined with numerous colleagues in sending a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Rand Beers and OMB Director Sylvia Burwell, urging them to properly enforce the legislation and let these individuals go back to work.
In addition to our Armed Forces, I am also concerned about the thousands of federal workers furloughed across numerous other agencies. The shutdown is not their fault, and it is unfair for them to lose working days and critical paychecks. This is why I co-sponsored the Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act that would ensure federal workers receive lost pay for the duration of the funding gap, regardless of their furlough status.
Too many days have passed since the shutdown occurred, and with each day, millions of hard-working Americans are needlessly suffering. The failure to pass appropriations is a dangerous situation for Americans, especially as we inch closer to the debt ceiling deadline on Oct. 17. While every opinion is important, it is unacceptable for one side to call the shots and not even consider compromise.
The House is led by Republicans, and they were elected to represent thousands of communities, including Oklahoma’s Fourth District, who wanted their voices heard in Washington.
Whether they like it or not, the Senate and President Obama must at least consider the position of the House. The longer Democrat leaders stonewall any attempts to fund our government and pay federal workers, the more difficult the recovery will be ahead.
The American people deserve better from their elected representatives and commander in chief. Certainly spirited debate is expected, but at the end of the day, the country expects us to find ways that ensure the most basic functions of government are funded and administered. Now is the time for the president and the Senate to come to the table and help find that common ground.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, represents the Fourth District of Oklahoma.