By Dana Bartholomew
They fought in vain to offer financial fuel to the federal government, then watched as Uncle Sam sputtered into a ditch.
Lawmakers at loggerheads over Obamacare appeared unlikely to pass a spending bill Monday -- and avoid the first federal government shutdown in 17 years.
Early in the day, the Democratic-controlled Senate passed a bill to fund the government through mid-November, while protecting President Obama's health care insurance law. Late in the afternoon, the Republican controlled House still insisted its spending bill gut portions of his Affordable Care Act.
Congressmen from across Southern California joined in the partisan blame game while bemoaning the looming loss in services. And lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were at wit's end.
"It's very frustrating," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, who was elected a decade ago to represent portions of the San Fernando Valley. "For those of us who came here to get things done, it's excruciating.
"If Congress had gotten out of the way a year and a half ago and quit manufacturing these fiscal crises, our economy would be humming along right now."
A partial government shutdown would furlough some 800,000 federal civilian workers, which would close the door on new applicants for Social Security, Medicare and veterans' benefits.
It would also stop new Federal Housing Administration loans, hampering real estate business. It could put the kibosh on new passports, hampering foreign travel. And it would deny new housing vouchers for the poor. And give the straight arm to new small business loans.
Across a vast swath of Southern California, a federal shutdown would shutter cherished parks and open spaces, from Death Valley to Joshua Tree, from the Angeles National Forest to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The loss in local tourist revenue could run into the millions.
That's why one Republican congressman representing much of the Mojave called for a short-term spending deal -- plus a bill to bar anyone in Congress from getting paid throughout a federal shutdown
"As a member of Congress who wants to get things done, it's frustrating to see this game of Russian roulette play out," said Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley, whose district covers a swath from Death Valley National Monument to the U.S. Marine base at 29 Palms, said in a statement. "We shouldn't shut down government, and my constituents have made that clear to me.
"We should pass a short-term continuing resolution until we can reach a longer-term deal."
Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-Arleta, a former Los Angeles councilman who has served as a congressman since January representing the northeast San Fernando Valley, called for a 45-day continuing resolution, without any negotiating poison pills. Cardenas said he was especially concerned about how the shutdown would affect veterans services, Head Start programs and federal home and small business loans.
The shutdown would be especially hard on blue-collar workers, he said, as well as small businesses such as plumbers and electricians that depend on real estate sales.
It would be especially hard on veterans, Cardenas said. He said 22 servicemen and -women a day commit suicide, and the shutdown would prevent the Veterans Administration from helping any new soldier who walked through its doors and requested help.
"I couldn't ever imagine it being this bad," Cardenas said of the political rancor in the nation's Capitol. "This is irresponsible. This is insane."
One Democratic congresswoman was especially concerned about a backlog of 1 million disability claims by U.S. veterans. Now on a waiting list for several months, their plight will only be made worse by the shutdown, said Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena.
"We shouldn't be holding up a federal government by a debate of a law that was passed three years ago," Chu said of the current spending bill standoff over Obamacare. "President Obama ran on health care reform, was elected again, (and) the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the law."
As the shutdown seemed increasingly likely Monday night, Rep. Janice Hahn, D-San Pedro, said she and her colleagues were continuing to work hard.
"I don't know at what point we reopen the government or what it will take before the Republicans feel enough is enough, they've made their point," Hahn said.
Hahn said the mood in the Capitol was "really somber. It's very sad, a lot of people are feeling like this is an embarrassment to this country. Internationally, this doesn't look good and a lot of people could be harmed. ... It's a sad day for America."
"This is not a good way to run a country. I think the American people really do want us to come together and work out our differences, to compromise on the things where we can find common ground."
Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Cerritos, who was especially worried about benefits being slashed for pregnant women and infants in need, called the whole process frustrating.
"The basic premise of the folks who want to shut down the government is they are going to throw tantrums and if they don't get their way, no one gets paid," Sanchez said.
"A shutdown will have devastating effects on the economy. It sets a really, really bad precedent and it accomplishes nothing."