WASHINGTON — For an hour Wednesday afternoon, callers to the Washington, D.C. office of U.S. Representative Cory Gardner did not reach a receptionist or intern first. The first person they spoke with was the congressman himself.
With four of his employees furloughed as a result of the budget shutdown, the Yuma Republican manned the phones inside his compact office in Room 213 of the Cannon Building, responding to callers’ questions about the status of their Social Security checks and upcoming meetings with him.
His chief of staff and scheduler joined him in taking the calls.
“It was all hands on deck,” Gardner said before walking on to the House floor to vote for appropriations bills to fund D.C. government as well as national parks and museums.
Indeed, Gardner strolled down the white marble hall to meet with his colleague Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) and took the calls of Tipton’s constituents. Tipton returned the favor, lending a hand in Gardner’s office.
The effect of the federal shutdown was even more pronounced in the offices of the Environmental Protection Agency. Of the 16,046 permanent employees with the agency, 14,971 have been sent home without pay, according to a memo administrator Craig E. Hooks sent Tuesday.
As Reuters reported, only 1,075 agency employees have been deemed “essential.” Hooks’ memo said 613 were employed in “ensuring the safety of human life and protection of property,” 296 had jobs that were financed by non-annual appropriations, and 162 were in the military and law enforcement.
On the second day of the federal shutdown or “slimdown,” lawmakers and federal workers felt what it’s like being on the budgetary equivalent of a crash-course diet.
The regimen was far more demanding regimen than that imposed during the last eight months of the fiscal year that ended Monday, a process of across-the-board, automatic spending cuts known as sequestration. Few said they enjoyed the new normal.
For many Republicans, the person most responsible for the shutdown is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
In the morning, Tipton spoke on the floor of the House to criticize Reid for failing to appoint senators to a joint House-Senate conference that could work out a compromise. “Senator Reid just needs to pick up the phone and work in a bipartisan manner … Senator Reid just needs to pick up the phone and listen to the voices of the House of Representatives,” Tipton said.
House Republicans insist that in exchange for funding the government for six more weeks, Democrats should agree to delay the implementation of the individual mandate for the Affordable Care Act and eliminate a federal subsidy for members of the judicial, legislative, and executive branches.
At an afternoon press conference at the Capitol, Reid responded with a rebuke of his own. “You talk about reckless and irresponsible. Wow. They are obsessed with Obamacare,” Reid said, underlining the word ‘obsessed’ for emphasis, and pointing to the 40-plus votes House Republicans have taken to delay or defund the controversial health care law.
In addition, House Republicans sought to open up parts of the federal government. The House voted along party lines to keep open national parks and museums, with all four Colorado Republicans voting for the bill and Colorado Democrats voting against it – with the exception of Boulder Rep. Jared Polis, who crossed the aisle to vote with the GOP. And the House voted unanimously to fund the D.C. government.
Although some polls show that slightly more Americans blame House Republicans than President Obama or House Democrats for the shutdown, a Gallup poll showed that Reid is the most unpopular of the four congressional leaders. One-third approved and 53 percent disapproved of Reid’s performance, according to the poll of 700-plus people conducted Sept. 5- 8.