Press-Republican

October 2, 2013

Owens: GOP needs to resolve government shutdown

By JOE LoTEMPLIO
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — North Country Congressman Bill Owens says the government shutdown will not be avoided if Republicans can’t get their own house together to make a deal.

“There is no one on the Republican side that can deliver the votes and get a deal done,” Owens, a Democrat from Plattsburgh, said in a telephone news conference Tuesday.

“But Democrats have to step up to the plate, too.”

NO REPLACEMENT

Owens said Republican leadership is being impacted by a small group of their own members who absolutely want to squash the Affordable Health Care Act, known as Obamacare.

Their insistence makes if difficult for Speaker of the House John Boehner to work toward a deal to avoid a government shutdown, Owens said.

“The position our friends on the other side have taken is not an exercise in making it (Obamacare) better; it’s an exercise in taking it out,” Owens said, adding that opponents have not offered any legislation to replace the health-care law.

FORT DRUM FURLOUGHS

The biggest impact the shutdown will have in Owens’s 21 District, which covers 12 counties from Lake Ontario in the west to Lake Champlain in the east, will be at Fort Drum.

The Army base in Watertown is home to about 800 civilian employees, and around one-third of them could feel the pinch of the shutdown with furloughs.

“The impacts this will have on people will become, in my view, more critical as this rolls forward,” Owens said.

“The way the civilian workforce has been treated is abominable.”

Owens, who voted in favor of Obamacare when he first entered office after a special election in November 2009, has often said that he believes parts of the law should be changed. One of those is a tax on those who produce medical devices.

Owens said he is willing to debate changes to the law. 

“I am prepared to do something that makes sense,” he said.

“We just need to see that option.”

TIME WILL ADD TROUBLE

Owens said the shutdown probably will not have a major impact on the district in the short term, but it could create problems down the road.

He said mail delivery and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol operation at the northern border should not be affected.

“But if this goes on 10 or 15 days, this could be a problem,” he said.

A solution will not be found unless all government leaders get together, Owens said, and the longer the shutdown goes, the more restless the public will get.

“As pressure grows, I think the likelihood of people coming together grows exponentially.”

HONOR FLIGHT

One group keeping a close eye on the shutdown is North Country Honor Flight. The group arranges for World War II veterans to travel to Washington, D.C., to visit the monument dedicated to their efforts and other sights.

About a dozen veterans from the North Country are scheduled to fly to Washington on Oct. 12 for a visit.

The monument was closed Tuesday due to the federal parks shutdown, and barricades were erected.

But 92 World War II veterans from Mississippi reportedly knocked over the barricades and went in to see their monument anyway. Another group from Iowa showed up later and also made their way into the venue as National Park Police stood by.

Danny Kaifetz, director of North Country Honor Flight, said they are planning to go ahead with their trip on Oct. 12 no matter what.

“How ridiculous is it to shut down that monument,” he said. “It’s an outdoor monument, with no ticket booth or anything. You just walk in. It’s like trying to close Lake Champlain or close a mountain.

“It probably cost more to close it than leave it alone.”

Kaifetz said the veterans from Mississippi deserve credit for not backing down to the government shutdown.

“It took a group of 90-year-olds to stand up for their rights and show the government that they don’t have to take this.”

Email Joe LoTemplio:jlotemplio@pressrepublican.com