Shutdown Obscures Congressional Inaction

Posted October 1, 2013 at 4:59pm

The government shutdown that began Tuesday morning has overshadowed Congress’ dysfunction and inaction on several other major issues, including farm programs that expired Monday along with funding for the federal government.

Without a new farm bill authorization to keep current policies in place, several agricultural programs expired at the end of Monday. While the Senate reappointed conferees Tuesday afternoon, no House-Senate agreement on a new five-year farm bill appears imminent, given that House leaders struggled mightily to pass a renewal of farm programs and food stamps.

But it’s not just the farm bill. Easy to miss in the hours leading up to the lapse in appropriations was the fact that the U.S. Postal Service missed a required payment to the federal Treasury for retirement obligations Monday.

A number of committee hearings and markups on both sides of the Rotunda have already been canceled or postponed indefinitely, and leaders of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee have noticed the lapse.

Though the doors to the panel’s committee room are closed, Chairman Thomas R. Carper said he would keep trying to advance a long overdue overhaul of the Postal Service.

“We’re using this time to meet with individual senators — Democrat and Republican — meet with their staffs on postal legislation to educate them, and hear their questions and concerns,” the Delaware Democrat said, adding that he will also continue to work on cybersecurity legislation.

Ranking member Tom Coburn, R-Okla., also vowed to keep working to revamp the Postal Service, particularly in light of its repeated defaults on health care payments for retirees.

“These payments are designed to protect the future benefits promised to postal workers, and short-changing this fund only jeopardizes their future. It is clear the time to reform the Postal Service has come,” Coburn said in a Monday statement. “I am hopeful my colleagues will put the long-term best interest of the Postal Service ahead of parochial interests and will thoughtfully consider our bipartisan bill so that the Postal Service can thrive in the future.”

Several senators in both parties who have been trying to stop significant increases in flood insurance rates held a news conference in the Capitol on Tuesday morning, the same day those higher rates kicked in.

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., said the news conference had been planned before the offices involved knew that lawmakers wouldn’t agree on a stopgap spending measure, but she said it was important to assure constituents that the flood insurance issue remains a priority.

Advocates of stopping or delaying the rate increases had been looking for a moving legislative vehicle, including the ill-fated CR.

“My office is closing down. Essential personnel will be left. I’m going to continue to work personally on flood insurance and [the] Morganza to the Gulf [Hurricane Protection Project], which are two really important issues for the state,” Landrieu said after the event. “I’m going to not stop working on that.”

“Now, I don’t think anyone disputes that this program needs to be reformed. I don’t think that anyone disputes that this program as it is currently structured is not sustainable and needs to be reformed,” Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio said at the news conference. “But I also believe that needs to be balanced with the reality that these massive increases are highly disruptive to our real estate market and they’re highly disruptive to the lives of everyday people.”

Landrieu, as subcommittee chairwoman, put a provision on flood insurance into her version of the fiscal 2014 Homeland Security spending bill, but it never reached the floor.

“The government is shut down. The appropriations process is barely holding on by a thread, which makes our problem even worse,” Landrieu said.