October 9, 2013

Cole says shutdown momentum could shift toward starting government

James Bright, Managing Editor,
The Express-Star


Despite pandering from both sides over raising the national debt ceiling and ongoing political discourse, Congressman Tom Cole (R - Chickasha) said a deal to reopen the government may be closer than many expect. 

"I met with the Speaker and the house whips Monday night, and it seems like we may have a short-term resolution that could bring some momentum," he said. 

Cole said he believes the American people want Congress to sit down and have a discussion on how not to incur future debt before raising the debt ceiling. 

"Obviously I don't think we should default, but I am not going to automatically vote to increase it (the debt ceiling)," Cole said. "I'd be happy to have a discussion about it. We are not trying to extort something out of the President."

Yesterday marked a week since the Federal Government was partially shutdown due to Congress' inability to agree on a budget. Although representatives in both chambers voted to pay government employees for their lost time who were furloughed during the shutdown, more workers found themselves with an abundance of free time this week. 

More than 7,000 Veteran's Benefits Affairs employees, who worked in the claims office were furloughed on Tuesday, including those officed in Muskogee, Okla. 

The VA released the following statement regarding the situation.  

"VA’s ability to make significant progress reducing the disability claims backlog is hampered without the increased productivity gained from overtime for claims processors – overtime that has helped VA significantly reduce the disability claims backlog by more than 190,000 claims over the last six months. Clear progress for Veterans and their families is at risk without immediate action by Congress to make fiscal year 2014 funding available by passing a clean continuing resolution to reopen the government."

Public Affairs Officer for the Oklahoma City VA Tara Ricks said the new cuts will not affect veterans ability to receive medical treatment at VA hospitals. She said those programs and establishments are funded through the end of 2014 fiscal year. 

Payouts and monetary assistance for veterans may be in danger if the shutdown continues much longer, said Ricks. 

“Regarding benefits payments administered by the Veterans Benefits Administration: Claims processing and payments in the compensation, pension, education, and vocational rehabilitation programs are anticipated to continue through late October," she said. "However, in the event of a prolonged shutdown, claims processing and payments in these programs would be suspended as available funding is exhausted."

The House of Representatives passed legislation last week funding veteran's affairs, but Cole said the Senate has yet to take the bill to a vote. 

"I feel like they're holding on to it to keep pressure on us," he said. 

Regardless of the outcome, Cole said the "fast and loose" methodology those in Washington apply to dealing with national budgetary issues has to stop.