With Congress passing a bill, and President Barack Obama signing it into law, to reopen government and raise the federal debt ceiling, local federal operations should be moving back toward normal, although offices still seemed to be closed in the region this morning.
The members of Montana’s congressional delegation all praised the reopening of the government and preventing a default on U.S. debt payments, although freshman Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont ., who voted for the bill, decried it as a lost opportunity.
After 16 days of the federal shutdown due to Congress failing to pass a budget or resolution to keep the government operating, it passed a bill to fund government at previous levels through Jan. 15 and raise the debt limit to levels that should keep the nation solvent through Feb. 7. Obama signed the bill early this morning.
The gridlock primarily was over demands by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives that passing a resolution to continue government operations be tied to cuts or delays in the health care reform act passed in 2010 — the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.
Obama and the Democratically controlled Senate refused to bargain on funding governmental operations, or on raising the debt limit, which Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said would cause the country to default on its debt payments if not raised by today.
While offices and federally run facilities and attractions were opening today in Washington, local offices may take a bit longer.
A message on the Hill County USDA Service Center this morning continued to say the office was shut down due to lack of funding.
A representative of the Bureau of Indian Affairs at the Fort Belknap Agency said the office continued to operate on a skeleton crew, as the furloughed staff members have to be given notice to return to work, likely Friday or possibly Monday.
The local offices then will have to catch up the missed work, including the Farm Service Agency offices, which normally process most of the Conservation Reserve Program and Direct and Countercyclical Program payments to local farmers starting at the beginning of each October.
The Havre Daily News left a message for representatives of the Chippewa Cree Tribe’s government this morning. A worker in the tribal government’s main office saying officials were in a meeting about the end of the shutdown likely until late this morning.
Chippewa Cree spokesman Larry Denny by printing deadline this morning had not returned a call requesting comment.
Tribal officials at the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation also could not be reached for comment by printing deadline this morning.
Rep. Steve Daines, who voted for the resolution tied to cutting Obamacare and then sponsored or supported bills to fund parts of the government without full funding — which Obama and Senate Democrats said were dead on arrival — praised Wednesday’s passage of the bill.
But, he said in a release Wednesday, Congress will be back “at square one” in a few months.
“This was a missed opportunity to address our nation’s debt crisis and engage in a much-needed conversation about long-term reforms and real solutions that deal with our spending and balance the budget,” he said in the release. “When the people of Montana elected me as their voice in Congress, I promised them that I would work to solve the tough problems facing our country, and I remain focused on these goals.
“Montanans want long-term reforms and real solutions, not more of Washington’s persistent failures to resolve its spending addiction,” Daines added. “Going forward, my objectives will remain the same: repeal Obamacare, oppose tax increases and curb federal spending.”
Montana’s Democratic U.S. senators, Max Baucus and Jon Tester, also praised the Senate passing the bill Wednesday night, while decrying the two-week deadlock in finding an agreement.
“This deal is long overdue, and I am eager to see it signed into law, so our parks and public lands can reopen, our 12,000 Montana federal employees can get back to work, and Congress can focus on things that create jobs, like the Farm Bill,” Baucus said.
“This shutdown never should have happened. Fighting in Washington is worse than I’ve ever seen it, and folks at home are getting hurt. Enough is enough.
“Montanans deserve better,” Baucus added. “Working families and small businesses can’t afford to go through this same fight all over again in a couple months. Congress needs to remember who we work for and start putting people ahead of politics.”
Tester made similar comments in a press release Wednesday night.
“I’m relieved that common sense has finally prevailed and we are able to reopen the federal government and pay our nation’s bills,” he said. “I hope that in the future we can continue to have serious conversations about our nation’s debt and deficit without a minority of members of Congress holding our nation and the economy hostage.”