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Area Congressmen Hope To Avoid Shutdown

New York Congressman Paul Tonko
Lucas Willard

Members of Congress are headed back to Washington to jump back into the fire as the U.S. Senate readies a budget that will likely be sent back to the House.  Unless both houses can find a compromise by Sep. 30th, disagreement over the debt ceiling and Affordable Care Act could bring the government to a shutdown.

The Republican-controlled House recently passed a budget with a provision to defund President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act. The House plan likely will not make it through the Democrat-controlled Senate.

New York  Congressman Bill Owens, a Democrat of the 21st District, recently predicted the odds on whether Democrats and Republicans can find an agreement in the coming days.

"I've been predicting it at 50/50," said Owens.

Owens said that time will be short for members of Congress to strike an agreement over a Senate package before Monday’s deadline.

"Now they're telling us the earliest we'll vote is Saturday or Sunday," said Owens. "That means we're only going to vote on the Senate package, which means likely it will go back to the Senate. So we're going to be playing ping pong for a while."

On Monday, Massachusetts 1st District Democrat Richard Neal, who has served in Congress since 1989, said that idealistic, recently elected Republicans are advocating for a dangerous result.

"More than 80 percent of the members House of Representatives have now served for such a short period of time that they don't  remember the 1994 shutdown," said Neal. "And for those that have argued that limited experience is to be the preferred path, you're going to have a different picture of that as things play out."

Republican Chris Gibson, of New York’s 19th District, voted for the House bill passed last week that would defund the Affordable Care Act. Gibson says he believes the law is not ready to be implemented. He also says that delaying Obamacare would give Congress a chance to take another look at cuts from the sequester, and find ways to reinstate federal funding to certain programs.

"We've got conservatives that are looking to defund the Affordable Care Act, we have liberals that want to eliminate the Sequester, and in my view what I think is a reasonable, thoughtful, and productive compromise is if we delay the Affordable Care Act to January 2015, we lift the Sequester, link it together with the Affordable Care Act moving them both to some point in January...and work together to focus on economic growth," said Gibson.

But even if Congress can strike a deal over Obamacare or the Sequester, the battle over the debt ceiling is also looming.

Congressional Republicans are seeking to prevent an increase on the nation’s $16.7 trillion borrowing limit. President Obama has said he would not accept any plan that would degrade the nation’s credit rating.

A similar battle in 2011 downgraded the U.S.’s Standard and Poor’s credit rating from AAA to AA+.

Congressman Paul Tonko of New York’s 20th District, a Democrat, held a press conference this week speaking against a government shutdown, and claimed that House Republicans were holding the nation “hostage”.

"And I think to hold hostage the nation's budget or nation's credit rating at a very critical time would not be in the best interests of this nation," said Tonko.

Tonko said he was hoping that as lawmakers take their votes, “common sense will prevail.”

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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