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Murray, Cantwell furlough most of their staffs
Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray furloughed almost their entire staffs. But other members declared all their staff essential. So it went on Day One of the government shutdown on Capitol Hill. The elevator operators were furloughed, but lobbyists still made the rounds.
Seattle Times Washington bureau
WASHINGTON — Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell shuttered their district offices Tuesday and furloughed nearly all their staff, offering their constituents a first-day view of the fallout from the federal-government shutdown.
Between them, the two Washington Democrats closed 12 offices from Everett to Vancouver to Yakima. They also pared their staff in Washington, D.C., to a core crew of people deemed essential.
Business on Capitol Hill, however, mostly carried on despite the first federal funding lapse since 1996.
Lobbyists and advocates stuck to their rounds, navigating long security lines to Senate and House office buildings that had been reduced to single entrances in anticipation of fewer visitors. Democrats and Republicans kept up their legislative volley over the spending bill, albeit without furloughed workers who normally run the elevators during votes.
Matt McAlvanah, Murray’s spokesman, said the senator’s decision to close her six district offices in Washington state was based on guidance from the Senate Counsel’s office.
Cantwell also furloughed most of her staff in D.C., save for one person in each department such as legislation, press and administration.
Murray and Cantwell’s offices will not be handling constituents’ requests, emails or calls during the shutdown.
Over in the House, all six Democrats from Washington kept every staff member on the payroll. When there is a lapse in appropriations, lawmakers have latitude in deciding which of their employees are essential to carrying out their “constitutional responsibilities.” Those duties include drafting bills, preparing for hearings and conducting research.
Spokesmen for two House Republicans, Doc Hastings, of Pasco, and Jaime Herrera Beutler, of Camas, said they furloughed “some” staffers but would not elaborate. Offices of two other Republican lawmakers from the delegation, Dave Reichert, of Auburn, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Spokane, did not respond.
Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, said Tuesday he would extend district office hours in Bremerton and Tacoma for constituents affected by government closures. Kilmer’s 6th District includes Naval Base Kitsap Bangor, and the federal government is the district’s largest employer.
Other members, including Democratic Rep. Suzan DelBene, of Medina, said they would have caseworkers on hand to help constituents with shutdown-related matters.
Around Congress, lawmakers wielded their authority to designate essential and nonessential staff in varied ways. Dick Durbin, the Senate majority whip, furloughed 80 percent of his staff. But his Republican colleague from Illinois, Sen. Mark Kirk, kept everyone on the job.
On the first floor of the Longworth House Office Building, David D’Hondt waited for an audience with Reichert. D’Hondt, executive vice president of Associated General Contractors of Washington, wanted to talk to Reichert about infrastructure investments, tax reforms and other legislative priorities for his group.
Sitting in the reception area of Reichert’s office, D’Hondt said he hadn’t counted on his visit coinciding with the shutdown. Still, D’Hondt said he was optimistic that both parties could get real work done amid the distraction of a shutdown.
D’Hondt planned to also drop in on other members of the delegation, including Cantwell and Murray. He said he would tell lawmakers at an impasse “let’s figure it out and get some stuff done.”
Reichert’s staff said the congressman was unavailable for an interview with a reporter. After his meeting with Reichert, D’Hondt said by email, “Our discussions are always constructive.”
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