HELENA – As the federal government’s partial shutdown entered its second week, the economic effects in Montana certainly aren’t positive, a top economist said – but it’s hard to measure them precisely.
“It’s just way too fluid to get a handle on it,” said Patrick Barkey, director of the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research. “(But) I think the longer this goes on, the more you’re going to see the impacts grow.“
Thousands of federal employees in Montana have been idled by the shutdown that started Oct. 1, after House Republicans and congressional Democrats and the White House could not agree on a budget bill for the 2014 fiscal year.
Many government functions in Montana have been curtailed – Glacier and Yellowstone national parks remain closed – while some continue to operate, although on a lesser scale.
The standoff in the nation’s capital also has escalated to a debate over raising the country’s debt ceiling, needed to avoid defaulting on U.S. debts.
U.S. Rep. Steve Daines – Montana’s only House member – is sticking with the GOP majority in the House, refusing to support an up-or-down vote on a short-term budget resolution to reopen the full federal government.
He has voted several times in recent days with House Republicans, and some Democrats, to pass bills funding portions of the government, including national parks, children’s cancer research, food and drug inspections, and payment for furloughed workers.
“We could have 90 percent of our government open again tomorrow,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
Daines said Republicans want to negotiate with the White House and Senate Democrats on spending policy and restrictions on the Affordable Care Act, the health reform law known as “Obamacare.”
When asked why Republicans couldn’t negotiate those issues without shutting down the government or threatening a default on U.S. debt, Daines said: “The standard practice has been for the president to negotiate with Congress to resolve our differences. If he won’t negotiate now ... how do we have any confidence that he’ll negotiate with Congress after the debate (over the government shutdown) is over?“
Obama said again Tuesday he won’t negotiate unless Republicans agree to stop the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling.
Senate Democrats are standing firm behind the president, and say they’ve already made concessions.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said in an interview Tuesday that the Senate passed a short-term budget resolution last week to fund the government at a level $72 billion less than it had proposed, as a compromise with the House.
The House should take a vote on that bill, he said, instead of passing multiple funding bills for parts of the government.
All government agencies interact with each other to do their job, and it doesn’t make sense to restart some while not others, Tester said.
“You don’t, as a minority, take your one issue and stop everything by shutting down the government,” he said. “And that’s what has happened back here.“
Tester said he’s willing to work closely with both parties to resolve differences on spending and other key issues, but that GOP hard-liners want to shut down the government unless they get their way.
“We’re wasting a lot of money and a lot of time,” he said. “We’re attaching another boat-anchor to our economy.“
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., also called for an up-or-down vote in the House on the broader budget bill and said the shutdown is “having real and harmful impacts on working families all across our state that will only get worse if we risk the full faith and credit of the United States by threatening a default.“
Barkey, the UM economist, said the shutdown probably is having a greater impact on Montana’s smaller towns, which have a proportionately larger contingent of federal employees or government-related economic drivers.