Federal Government Shutdown Looms

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington, DC
With only one more day to fund the government and head off a federal shutdown, Congress is still wrangling over politics and dollars.

The Republicans leading the House of Representatives and the Democrats in the Senate can’t agree on a bottom line. If the government does shut down, 800,000 federal workers nationwide, including an estimated 17,000 in Alaska won’t be able to go to work.

Democratic Senator Mark Begich says a shutdown is looking more and more likely with every passing hour. He places blame squarely on Tea Party Republicans in the House, saying they’re being inflexible in negotiations.

Republicans have not named a dollar amount they’d be happy with, but they are listing some deal breakers: They want money withheld from Planned Parenthood and from enforcing environmental regulations.

Senator Lisa Murkowski says she won’t assign blame to one party or body, but like Begich, she’s chastising those who are being rigid and refusing to compromise. And she says it doesn’t make sense to completely eliminate funding for programs like some Tea Party Republicans want.

Murkowski says she’s most concerned that a shutdown will hurt military families. The military will keep working even if there’s a shut down, but while they’ll earn pay, they won’t collect paychecks. Murkowski is working on a bill that would get military pay to go forward even if a shutdown happens.

While the fishing industry is federally regulated, vessels should be able to continue on with their seasons. But some National Marine Fisheries Service operations could be affected. Krista Milani is a biologist with the agency, and she says that the Unalaska office could close up in the event of a shutdown. That would make it harder for people to get up-to-date information about the local fisheries. Instead, they would have to call the Alaska Regional Office to have their questions answered.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would also be mostly shut down in Alaska. Agency spokesperson Bruce Woods says the agency has a handful of biologists in the field right now. They would be immediately recalled to Anchorage.

At the USGS office in Anchorage, biologist Scott Hatch is preparing to head to Middleton Island in the Gulf of Alaska tomorrow for seabird research. He says it would be very disruptive if he has to fly back immediately.

An official at the Anchorage National Weather Service office says they will remain open during a shutdown. The West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer would keep on some emergency staff. Two shift workers would remain on duty at all times. The Alaska Volcano Observatory also says it would also keep a small staff in the office.

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