Frustration grows for furloughed Utahns as GOP, Dems dig in heels
Matt Gade, Deseret News
OGDEN — Amber Irwin would be tracking airplane parts at Hill Air Force Base today if it weren't for the impasse in Congress that broke her link in the supply chain for the wars overseas.
Instead, she's closely watching her bills to figure out how she's going to pay them.
"It's hard. I'm the main income in my house. I live with my boyfriend, who's a small-business owner. He owns a restaurant here in Ogden. Small businesses are not cash cows, so I'm responsible to the pay the bills, and depending on how long this lasts, I'm not really sure how I'm going to do that," she said.
Irwin, 26, who has a history degree from Weber State University, grew up in an Air Force family and always wanted to work for the government. She felt secure enough in her civilian job that she and her boyfriend bought a house last year. She works at Hill, but she's paid by through a program at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas.
Politicians, Irwin said, understand neither the immediate problems the shutdown creates nor the lasting impact on bright young people who will look outside government for jobs.
"I don't think that Congress even realizes the long-term damage it's doing by rattling the minds of its employees," she said.
Irwin said it's "indescribably frustrating" that lawmakers aren't any closer to a solution.
"Everyone has their political sides. For me, it seems ridiculous this is happening because of politics," she said. "I hope the government can figure it out and make a plan rather than hold the country hostage."
While President Barack Obama met with congressional leadership Wednesday, Republicans and Democrats remained entrenched in their positions.
Utah Republicans in Congress continue to hold out against the Affordable Care Act, while the lone Democrat again called for a vote on a spending bill absent ties to the health care law.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said it isn't a political question.
"The question is what is the right thing to do for our country," he said. "I believe that the right thing to do for our country is stop the implementation of this bill."
But for Stewart, the battle goes beyond Obamacare.
"A shutdown hurts people. We understand that," he said, adding that one of his sons was furloughed. "But this is a much larger fight here. Frankly, we've been looking toward this fight for generations. This is a generational moment. This isn't just a fight about Obamacare. This is a fight about what is the role of government."
Rep. Jim Matheson, Utah's only Democrat in Congress, said he doesn't believe that debate should come at the expense of people's jobs.
"I think that policy debates are important to happen in Congress, but holding the government hostage and shutting it down is not an appropriate action," he said.
Matheson called the shutdown irresponsible and "absolutely silly" behavior.
"People are hurting because of this. This is real," said Matheson, who heard from angry and worried Utahns during a Tuesday night telephone town hall meeting. "I can say I share the frustration, and we can do better."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, again criticized Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's "total arrogance" for not sitting down to negotiate, even though he said he knows they won't give in on the health care law and Republicans don't have the votes to change it.
"Are they going to give up on Obamacare? Of course not. This is a signature achievement by the president, if you want to call it that, but it's eating America alive," he said.
Hatch said people have "every right to be angry and frustrated" and that Congress needs to find a "reasonable" solution.
Hatch, Matheson and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, are among more than 100 lawmakers who say they will forgo their pay during the shutdown. Senators and congressmen make $174,000 a year.
Irwin doesn't know what to make of the gesture, saying it seems like pandering to voters but that it's nice they're not taking money while she and others aren't getting paid.
"It's too little too late, but it's better than nothing," she said, adding that lawmakers should focus on solving the problem.
"We don't hold our elected officials responsible for their inability to do their jobs," she said. "Whether they believe in Obamacare, it is law. Their job is to push forward and enact the laws and pass a budget, and they're not doing that."
And the longer they don't, the more difficult it will be for Irwin and about 800,000 people like her across the country to pay their bills.
"If it goes longer than a couple of weeks," she said, "I'll get a waitressing job."
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