First-day furlough in Colorado

Miners, roughnecks, park rangers, defense workers, military families, veterans brace to endure the effects of the last-ditch Republican effort to defeat Obamacare

First-day furlough in Colorado

Yesterday they were running routine maintenance on fighter jets, rebuilding washed-out trails in national parks, processing drilling and mining permits. Not today.

Some 800,000 Americans showed up at work at 9 a.m. Tuesday and received furlough notices. They are federal employees now off work without pay since the U.S. government shutdown at the stroke of midnight, when Monday turned to Tuesday.

President Obama and the Democrat-controlled Senate are now locked in a long-coming battle of wills with House Republicans, who in a last-ditch effort, aim to defund Obamacare by refusing to OK any budget that pays for any part of it.

The Democrats have every reason not to balk. The Affordable Care Act is established law. It was unsuccessfully challenged on the floor of the House and Senate and on the stump in elections around the country. It was challenged in the courts and found to be constitutional by a majority of the Supreme Court that included conservative Chief Justice John Roberts. And parts of the law have been running now for three years and Americans have come to rely on those provisions. There’s also legitimate concern that bargaining after the fact over legislation that has long left the deliberative chambers of government and become law sets the worst kind of precedent in a city that has enough trouble getting legislation passed in the first place.

For their part, Republican lawmakers and politicians for years have hitched every wagon to their vow to defeat Obamacare. They have portrayed the law as a cataclysmic mistake that will tank American businesses and drain liberty from the culture. Stopping Obamacare has been likened to the war to defeat the Nazis and the U.S. Civil War fought to end slavery. And now the slightest nod toward accepting the law can bring the harshest kind of rebuke from conservative voters who have come to believe the things they were told about it.

In short, Americans are now looking at days, weeks or perhaps months of shutdown that will affect every corner of the federally funded economic sector.

In the Department of Defense alone, 400,000 employees are now off work. Many of those are employed on bases in Colorado. Tens of thousands more work for government contractors. Commander Lewis of The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) at Peterson Air Force Base near Colorado Springs confirmed that approximately 700 members of his staff alone are on full-time furlough.

“Regardless of how long the government shutdown lasts, it will certainly have an impact on our workforce,” said DOD spokesman Commander Bill Urban. “Service members who are engaged in an important mission shouldn’t have to be worried about their next paycheck.”

Urban said that paychecks for active duty military and the units supporting them are only funded through November 1. Should the shutdown continue through November 15, barring any new stopgap measures, military families can expect to receive no more pay, regardless of their family member’s duty status.

The Bureau of Land Management, which cares for about 12 percent of Colorado land, is effectively out of action. All but a handful of its employees have been sent home without pay.

“We’ll notify folks that campgrounds are closing,” said Communications Director Steven Hall. “That will be an odd process and a challenge to enforce with so few employees.”

The Colorado economy will take a hit, and not just as family spending slows. Licenses to mine or to drill for oil and natural gas will be stalled.

Bill Conroy, the state director of veterans affairs, promised that the vast majority of his office’s services including health care, pensions, home loans, and burials will continue at least for the foreseeable future. He acknowledged, however, that his office won’t have staff on hand to help many vets in crisis.

“Most of our regional office workers will be gone,” he said. “They process veterans’ claims for benefits, compensation and disabilities services. So vets who are getting out now from Iraq or Afghanistan, vets who have a whole host of problems — PTSD, shell wounds, loss of hearing — their new claims won’t be processed.”

Conroy is well aware this isn’t a great situation. He still he remains hopeful.

“Honestly I’m not too worried about it now,” he said Monday as the shutdown grew more likely. “Even if the shutdown does happen, I don’t think it will last that long. Two to three days at the most. If it does go longer, of course everyone will see adverse effects.”

[ Image of the “Official Government Business” road to NORAD by Chris Crawford via Flickr ]

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About the Author

Tessa Cheek

She writes and makes photos about communities. Her book, Great Wall Style, a monograph-profile-lyric essay, is out from Images Publishing. tcheek@coloradoindependent.com | 720-440-2527 | @tessacheek

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