By David Levinsky
Burlington County's two Republican congressmen are pushing for a speedy end to the latest federal government shutdown.
As most government functions came to a halt and about 800,000 federal workers were sent home on unpaid furloughs, Rep. Jon Runyan joined with other moderate Republicans in calling for the House to vote on a "clean" short-term funding bill that would reopen the government without making changes to the nation's health care reform law.
"Enough is enough. Put a clean (continuing resolution) on the floor and let's get on with the business we were sent to do," Runyan, R-3rd of Mount Laurel, said Tuesday in a statement released after the government shutdown began.
Runyan was joined by several other prominent Republican lawmakers in calling for an end to the so-called defunding fight, including Pennsylvania Reps. Patrick Meehan and Charlie Dent, New York Rep. Peter King and Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell, who tweeted, "We fought the good fight. Time for a clean CR," referring to a resolution that would reopen the government without addressing health care.
Burlington County's second Republican congressman, Rep. Frank LoBiondo, didn't endorse the idea of a vote on a clean bill, but said Tuesday that it was one of several options he wanted House leaders to pursue to try to bring a fast end to the political fight.
"We've got to get out of this rut and move forward," LoBiondo, R-2nd of Mays Landing, said in an interview. "I'm open to whatever gets us a result."
Runyan and LoBiondo are avowed critics of the health care law, commonly called "Obamacare," and hours earlier the pair joined the vast majority of their party members to send to the Senate a bill that funded the government but delayed the individual insurance mandate of the law for a year. The resolution also barred the government from making employer contributions to the cost of insurance for members of Congress, their staff and the White House administration.
The Senate rejected the proposal, causing the first federal government shutdown in 17 years. About 800,000 federal workers were expected to be furloughed Tuesday afternoon.
Among those being sent home were an untold number of civilian defense employees from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, which is New Jersey's second-largest employer.
Base officials were unable to say how many of the base's 6,700 civilian workers were being furloughed, but history indicates it likely could be several thousand.
A total of 5,200 employees on the base were furloughed for six days during the summer because of mandated federal sequester cuts.
A base spokeswoman said in a statement that the installation began implementing an "orderly shutdown" Tuesday and that several facilities and activities were shuttered as a result, including the auto skills center, civilian personnel office, community activities center, youth sports programs, administrative services for family child care, and the Dix official mail center.
Active-duty service members and civilians deemed essential to national security and public safety missions continued to work and would be paid, according to a resolution approved unanimously by the House and Senate.
Operations at the joint base would be stressed because of the shutdown, base spokeswoman 1st Lt. Alexis D. McGee said.
"As the second-largest employer in the state of New Jersey, we value each of our employees, both civilian and military personnel, who bring extensive capabilities to the mission. There is no way to downplay the impact the shutdown will have on the lives of our civilian workforce, and we know that we would not be able to complete the mission without all of our employees," McGee said in a statement.
The strategy of using the budget deadline to attack the health care law was backed by tea party conservatives, but the Democratic-controlled Senate has refused to approve any resolution that alters the law.
House Democrats also have called for a vote on a funding resolution without special conditions.
"The bill passed by the Senate is "clean,' meaning it is free of any provisions except budget items. As I have said repeatedly since the Senate bill passed, we should put it on the floor and pass it today," said Rep. Rob Andrews, D-1st of Haddon Heights.
Runyan and LoBiondo voted in support of the House resolutions to defund or delay the health care law despite previously expressing misgivings about the strategy, noting it would almost certainly result in a shutdown yet would not halt the reform law, which began accepting enrollments in government-run health insurance markets Tuesday morning.
Runyan repeated those concerns Tuesday and said he was ready to work on a bipartisan solution to end the standoff.
"I have very strong concerns about Obamacare and have heard from hundreds of constituents who share them, but shutting down the entire federal government and threatening our economy to make a political point is utterly ridiculous," he said. "This was a strategy with no reasonable chance of a positive outcome for anyone, least of all the American people. I'm here and ready to work toward a bipartisan solution to reopen the government."
This is not the first time Runyan has stood up to conservative members of his own party to end partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill.
In March, he led a group of 19 Republicans that pressured House leaders to allow a vote on a Senate bill to renew and expand the Violence Against Women Act authorizing millions in funding for programs that shelter and aid victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
His effort was credited with playing a pivotal role in getting GOP leaders to agree to a vote, and the bill passed with significant bipartisan support.
LoBiondo, who has requested that his $174,000 congressional salary not be paid until the shutdown ends, was critical of Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama for refusing to negotiate with GOP leaders as well as of conservative Republican members who continue to push to end the health care law at any cost.
He said a group of House members was attempting to bridge the political divide.
"A bunch of us are working very hard to end this thing," LoBiondo said, adding that he could not in good conscience accept pay during the crisis.
"The idea of the government being shut down and I'm still required to be paid, it's totally unacceptable to me," he said.