By: David Levinsky
Federal workers left offices in Mount Laurel, Springfield and on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Friday unsure of whether they would be returning Monday due to a looming government shutdown.
An 11th-hour budget accord between Democrats and Republicans averted the shutdown, which, according to one congressman, would have furloughed an estimated 5,000 federal workers in Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties.
"Common sense pulled an upset," Congressman Rob Andrews, D-1st of Haddon Heights, said Saturday about the last-minute budget agreement, which trims $38.5 billion in spending but keeps government operations running through the end of September.
Jon Runyan, R-3rd of Mount Laurel, said he was pleased a shutdown was avoided.
"I am pleased that leaders of both parties reached an agreement that funds the government for the rest of this fiscal year," Runyan said. "This agreement provides funding for our troops, makes significant spending cuts, and lays the groundwork for helping to establish a stronger environment for creating jobs.
"The spending crisis that we are dealing with did not happen overnight, and resolving these issues will take time. Last night's agreement gets us further down the road of less government spending and ultimately a stronger economy."
The actual agreement will likely be voted on early this week, however, federal government will remain running while the details are written into legislation.
Andrews said he was confident the final agreement would be one he and most of his colleagues would support.
"I do want to read what those $38.5 billion cuts are," he said, however, he said his understanding was that most departments would still receive about 97 percent of the funding they received last year.
"That's going to be difficult to manage, but I think it's quite reasonable," Andrews said.
The congressman said he believed the breakthrough in negotiations between President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was when the Republicans agreed to drop their demand that the plan block federal dollars to Planned Parenthood, which uses taxpayer money to offer contraception and health care for woman. The organization is also the nation's largest provider of abortion assistance.
"Once they dropped that, there was a deal within hours," Andrews said, adding the debate over federal funding for Planned Parenthood would continue along with other budget disputes, including a Republican proposal to make sweeping changes to Medicare and Medicaid health programs.
Andrews said some of the GOP proposals "are dead wrong" but he said he was encouraged that the parties will debate those issues without putting federal workers livelihoods and the nation's economic recovery at risk.
Among the federal offices that would have been impacted had the shutdown not been averted were the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services office in Mount Laurel, which is home to 33 federal employees and the U.S. Department of Agriculture office in Springfield, which has 30 employees. Active duty personnel at Joint Base McGuire- Dix Lakehurst were to remain on duty during a shutdown, but an unknown number of civilian employees there could also have been furloughed, officials said.
Andrews said more was at risk than furloughing federal employees due to the many businesses and citizens that rely on some of the federal services that would have been suspended or curtailed during a shutdown.
"At the end of the day, I think (Republicans) were having a hard time explaining themselves and why they would be cutting off services the American people have already paid for," he said.
Don Adams, spokesman for the Independence Hall Tea Party Association, said his group believes the spending cuts were a good start but that more reductions are needed.
"We think the House Republicans did what we sent them to Washington to do, which was to make cuts and have a positive impact on the budget," Adams said.
He said tea party groups would continue to oppose funding for Planned Parenthood, arguing that funding for the organization was not an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars.
"The Democrats showed here they are not only the party of big government and spending but that they are also the party of abortions," Adams said.
The Independence Hall Tea Party Association draws members from South Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.