Now that lawmakers can’t even agree to disagree, what happens next? That’s the question area residents asked Tuesday morning as they waited in long lines of traffic outside of Fort Stewart following a partial government shutdown.
Thousands of federal workers across the country were sent home. Only those government workers whose duties are considered “essential” have remained on the job. At Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Air Field, numerous services have been canceled or modified. National parks and museums are closed, and agencies like the Environmental Protection Division and NASA effectively would be shut down, according to the Associated Press.
The cause for all the confusion and frustration began at midnight Tuesday, when lawmakers failed to pass a temporary-funding bill. House Republicans had tried to delay key portions of the health-care law, but the Democratically-controlled Senate refused to pass bills designed to gut the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act. In addition, President Barack Obama has sworn to veto any bill that would impede the new health-care law.
Shortly before midnight Monday, Obama signed into law a bill ensuring military-service members would be paid during a shutdown. According to U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston’s office, this bill to protect service members’ pay first was proposed by Kingston, R-Ga.
“This bill also allows for the pay of civilian employees and contractors deemed to support the troops by the secretary of defense or the secretary of homeland security,” Kingston’s office said via email.
The Georgia congressman stated he “remains committed” to helping his colleagues reach an agreement, and he is confident the Senate “will join the House in doing the people’s business and reopening the government.”
State Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, did not share Kingston’s confidence that both parties can work together.
“The shutdown speaks to the current state of politics in America,” Williams said. “We’re rabidly partisan. Compromise has become a bad word. Many of the problems are personal in nature and directed toward the president. The fallacy of government in our lives with health care is poppycock. If you disagree with it, and you’re on Social Security or Medicare, mail the check back. We all want lunch, and no one wants to pay for it. Lunch ain’t free.”
Liberty County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette said lawmakers have “lost sight of doing what’s best for the whole. I pray the shutdown will end quickly.”
Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said the city already could be experiencing the effects of the federal-government shutdown.
“There are approximately 800-plus civil-service em-ployees and an unknown number of contractors who will be furloughed,” Thomas said. “Many of these employees will not be spending in the businesses within our city.”
The mayor said if a shutdown continues for an extended period, all the municipal programs partially funded by the federal government will be affected, including Liberty Transit system and the community-development department. He added hotels and restaurants that lodge and feed Fort Stewart contractors also would be adversely affected.
“The traffic conditions in our city will worsen because of the fact that only gates 1, 5 and 7 will be open for traffic,” Thomas said. “This morning (Tuesday), we experienced traffic tie-ups and delays due to the government shutdown. The city also will begin to see an increase in demand for emergency food and shel-ter assistance from our
community-development department if the shutdown continues for more than a few weeks.”
The mayor said the effects of a long-term government shutdown might not be fully measured “for some time due to the nature of government funding.”
Fort Stewart affected
Soldiers and Army civilians trying to get to work on Fort Stewart discovered major traffic delays Tuesday at the few access-control points that were open. Others were closed due to the government shutdown. Traffic was backed up Highway 84 from Gen. Stewart Way, and it was backed up going north and south on Highway 84 at Gen. Screven Way. Traffic also was backed up on E.G. Miles Parkway to Airport Road.
According to Fort Stewart Chief of Public Communications Kevin Larson, the following gates will remain open during the government shutdown:
• Gate 1 (Gen. Screven Way), 24/7
• Gate 4 (Vanguard Road), 24/7
• Gate 5 (Gulick Avenue), 24/7
• Gate 7C (Airport Road), 5 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday through Friday for commercial vehicles only
Larson said to expect normal operations for emergency services such as fire and 911, Department of Defense Education Activity schools, and Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation facilities. He said the commissary would be open only on Tuesday so that perishable food could be sold. It will remain closed for the duration of the shutdown, he said.
According to Fort Stewart Command Information Chief Jim Jeffcoat, the post exchange will remain open at this time.
Winn Army Community Hospital Public Affairs Officer Michelle Gordon said the hospital will “sustain current services and activities” this week. Clinics will be open and previously scheduled appointments will not be canceled. Pharmacy, labs, surgeries and radiology will continue to provide services. If the shutdown continues beyond this week, she said activities will be reassessed.
Due to the shutdown, Gordon said this week’s drive-through flu clinic has been rescheduled for Oct. 16-17. On a side note, she said the new Post Exchange refill pharmacy now will fill prescriptions from civilian health-care providers in addition to serving as the primary prescription-refill location. She said patients also will be offered an opportunity to drop off prescriptions and pick them up later.