Owens: Shutdown will be felt up north

The effects of Tuesday morning’s government shutdown will ripple throughout the North Country over the next few days, according to U.S. Rep. Bill Owens.

Many services will remain unscathed, such as those of U.S. and Canada border crossings, active military personnel and mail delivery.

Municipalities and individuals slated to receive money from the federal government should also be OK, Owens said, but future payments might not happen.

“Unfortunately, I can’t tell you as I’m sitting here today, as we get out a little further, seven, 10, 15 days, that we’re not going to have a greater problem,” the Plattsburgh Democrat said in a conference call with reporters. “I think the current payments should go forward, but anyone not receiving payments should reach out right away.”

Applications from veterans applying for benefits and people applying for Social Security or Medicaid are likely to be delayed, Owens said. Local workforce investment boards will also have their ability to train people for unfilled jobs in their communities weakened.

“We’re going to see this roll out over the next couple of days, and those impacts on people, in my view, are going to become more and more critical as we roll forward,” Owens said.

Fort Drum, the Army base near Watertown, will take the biggest hit of any entity in the region. About one-third of the employees there, the civilian ones, have been furloughed.

“It is a unit that is still at war,” Owens said. “These folks are critical to the accomplishment of that mission to send the troops off in the best status they can so they have the opportunity to complete the mission to return home safely.

“I think those folks have been severely mistreated in this process.”

Many Republican lawmakers aimed to have the Affordable Care Act repealed or defunded in exchange for avoiding the shutdown, a move Owens takes issue with.

“The position that our friends on the other side have taken is that this is not an exercise in making it better; it’s an exercise in knocking it out,” Owens said. “Since there’s nothing to replace it, it seems irresponsible to walk down that path. If, in fact, they are offering a series of changes that we might debate, I’d be happy to have that conversation.”

Owens has been critical of parts of the Affordable Care Act, such as its medical device box, and said it makes good sense to modify portions of any program that don’t garner the desired result. He added that those discussions seem unlikely at this stage.

“You may have read that Congresswoman (Michele) Bachman said very clearly that what the conservative wing of the Republican Party wanted to accomplish was a government shutdown, and they’ve done it and they’re happy about it,” Owens said. “From that perspective, that tells me that those folks are not governing responsibly.”

Owens said that representatives from both sides need to drop political ideology to get the federal government running again.

“Right now we don’t have anyone on the Republican side who can deliver the votes to get a deal done,” Owens said. “That is the critical issue. I think there is a deal to be had, but at this point the Republican votes can’t be delivered along with Democratic votes.”

Contact Shaun Kittle at 891-2600 ext. 25 or skittle@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.