Members of Congress from Washington state played the blame game but sounded hopeful Wednesday that the budget impasse would be solved in the coming days.
They expressed sympathy for federal workers who are receiving less than half their paychecks this week. Those workers could receive no pay in mid-January, even though they remain on the job, if some agreement isn’t reached before then.
In Spokane, that includes hundreds of employees of Veterans Affairs, Social Security, the Bureau of Mines, the Geological Survey and several other agencies.
“They will be paid when a settlement is reached,” said Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash.
Gorton called the budget stalemate a “harsh and difficult time” for those workers but urged them to look at the long-term picture.
“The future of the country is of greater importance. The balanced budget is about the future of our children and our grandchildren,” he said.
Gorton and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., voted late Tuesday to send all federal workers back to their jobs at full pay, at least through Jan. 12.
Murray said federal employees should not bear the burden of Congress’s inability to write a budget.
“My first goal is to pay the people who work for us,” she said.
Gorton supported Majority Leader Bob Dole’s tactic, but didn’t disagree with the decision Wednesday of House Republicans to reject Dole’s plan.
“My inclination is that the better tactic is this (partial shutdown) is the president’s responsibility,” he said.
House Republicans tried to press that point late Wednesday by trying to override Clinton’s veto of two appropriations bills. They failed to muster the two-thirds majority needed for such a maneuver.
Rep. George Nethercutt of Spokane acknowledged that he and other Republicans knew they didn’t have the votes to override the veto. But the move was an attempt to regain the public’s confidence.
“What we’re really trying to do is emphasize that the president could end this standoff today, because he vetoed those bills,” Nethercutt said. “It seems to me to make no sense for him to do that and then complain these people are out of work.”
All three said they understand why some federal workers are suggesting Clinton and Congress should forgo their paychecks during the budget impasse. Murray said she supported such a proposal that passed the Senate but died in the House.
Gorton said the suggestion is understandable but “blatantly unconstitutional.”
Nethercutt said everyone in the White House and Congress should agree to take a pay cut during the standoff. But Clinton should volunteer first, he added.
“He vetoed the bills. If anybody ought to be taking a pay cut, it ought to be the president.”