Upper Valley Denizens Dismayed by Shutdown
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., third from left, meets with House Republican conferees as the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate remain at an impasse, neither side backing down over Obamacare on Tuesday. Cantor said the chairs opposite him were intended for Democrats to join in the discussions, but he said they declined. (Associated Press — J. Scott Applewhite)
Claremont — Twin State residents voiced bipartisan frustration on Tuesday with a Congress incapable of averting the first federal government shutdown in nearly two decades.
Adding insult to injury, the impasse has shuttered publicly funded attractions such as the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Park in Woodstock and the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish during an early peak for the Upper Valley’s foliage season. Even the informational websites for the National Park Service were inoperable on Tuesday, directing visitors instead to a site where the latest news on the shutdown was available.
At the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, employees were still awaiting word from the Army Corps of Engineers on whether about 41 employees there would be furloughed.
CRREL spokesman Bryan Armbrust described the situation as “pending .”
“Indecision always affects everyone,” Armbrust said. “But when you have a mature workforce, you are more flexible and you understand that it is a part of working for the government.”
On the streets of Claremont, Abbie Williams — a self-described “staunch conservative” and “right-wing Republican” who works as a registered nurse at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center — said she is by no means a supporter of the health care law, but she was angry about the shutdown strategy pursued by the Congressional GOP.
“DHMC is full of liberal individuals, and we all have to figure out how to work together,” Williams said. “We all have differing opinions, but we all have to respect each others’ opinions and different perspectives, so we have to come to a happy medium.”
But Williams couldn’t identify a middle ground on which Democrats and Republicans could find consensus, nor an alternative strategy other than government shutdown for the GOP to fight ‘Obamacare.’ She conceded that the policy differences between the two parties on health care reform would not be easily solved, and threw in some harsh words for the Affordable Care Act.
“You can’t get blood from a rock,” she said. “We can’t be instituting this socialist type of health care program when we don’t have the funds to support it, and not only that, the vast majority of Americans don’t want Obamacare.”
Up the street, Patty Frye of Denver — a self-described “liberal Democrat” who was in Claremont doing consulting work — called the shutdown “obscene.”
“This kind of gamesmanship is going to hurt so many innocent people,” said Frye. “I don’t understand how Republicans can fight a law that was constitutionally enacted. It was voted on, it was passed, Obama was re-elected, and it went to the Supreme Court. It’s just astounding to me that this can still be a conversation.”
Frye pinned the blame for the shutdown on the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party, which she called a “small minority of people who are able to stop everything.”
Another out-of-towner, Florida resident and conservative Don Lambert, who was in Claremont visiting family, was in favor of the GOP’s strategy. Asked whether he supported the shutdown, Lambert said, “I hate to say this, but I think it’s a necessary evil.”
Lambert said that the Affordable Care Act should be stripped of funding or at the very least scaled back, but he also said the shutdown might put pressure on politicians in Congress to find consensus.
“Something’s got to bring this to a head where they’ve finally got to start working together,” Lambert said. “This is something that once people get fed up enough, they’ll probably get these people working together like they should be.”
While liberals blame what many see as a fractious Republican Party for the crisis, Lambert said the blame should fall on the president.
“He’s supposed to be the one who’s talking to both (parties) and trying to bring them together, and he’s not doing that,” Lambert said. “He’s just creating a wedge between both parties.”
Across the river in Windsor, Jerryne Cole, an Alaska resident, was waiting in the park for her mother to finish with a hairdressing appointment . Cole, who sits on the board of a national organization that partners nonprofit groups with the federal agencies overseeing national parks, said the shutdown and its affect on public lands is “very upsetting.” She also said the park closings have a major economic impact on the surrounding communities.
Cole said that private firms such as concessionaires , hotels and bus tours are all going to feel the effects of the shutdown.
“When we had the shutdown before, the government employees, everything was made right by Congress in the end because even though they were furloughed, they got their back-pay,” Cole said. “Well all of these for-profits and nonprofits that work in these federal lands, they’re not getting anything back.”
Cole, who described herself as a political independent, said that Democrats should not make any concessions.
She called the Republican strategy “wrongheaded,” despite voicing some concerns over the health care law.
“Of course there are things that need to be dealt with,” Cole said. “It’s an imperfect law, we all know that. But you let it do its work and then you improve it in an orderly process.”
Jim Dean, a Burlington resident who frequently visits Windsor, said the shutdown was merely a Republican “tantrum, and that’s about the level of respect it’s entitled to.”
Dean, now retired, used to head the federal probation office in Vermont.
He said the last shutdown, the strategy merely “causes chaos.
“It’s all part of the idea that government is the enemy that (former president Ronald Reagan) started in the 1980s,” Dean said. “Government is not the enemy. Government doesn’t always do things in the most efficient way, but neither does any bureaucracy.”
A supporter of the health care law, Dean said “there are things that are required to make a society function that only government can fulfill.
“The claim that the free market will solve the health care problem is absolutely bogus,” he said.
A poll released by Quinnipiac University on Tuesday backed up the frustration seen on the streets of the Upper Valley.
According to the poll, Americans oppose shutting down the federal government as a way to undermine the Affordable Care Act by 72 to 22 percent.
Also on Tuesday, the Vermont Department of Labor released a statement in response to the shutdown.
The department said it “has geared up to assist any federal employees, or any other workers, who may be eligible for unemployment as a result of being furloughed without pay from their jobs.”
Ben Conarck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3213.