The debate over the partial government shutdown reached the streets of Helena Tuesday morning as about 35 people rallied outside the office of U.S. Rep. Steve Daines on North Last Chance Gulch.
With chants to end the shutdown including, “Congress, Congress, do your job,” the group focused particularly on Social Security and Medicare, urging Daines and others in Congress to preserve and strengthen those programs and keep them out of current negotiations over the shutdown and debt ceiling.
They carried signs including, “End the shutdown,” “Jobs not cuts,” and, off-topic somewhat, “Less twerk more work.” Judy Fjell roused the group with folk songs on her guitar.
Sandy Oitzinger placed blame for the government shutdown on the Republican majority in the U.S. House and said she joined the group in part because of misinformation about the Affordable Care Act, sometimes called Obamacare.
“I just think that all of the distortions about the Affordable Care Act really need to be refuted and combated,” she said.
John Oitzinger slammed Daines, a Republican, for supporting subsidies in the Farm Bill while opposing subsidies for health coverage.
“If we can subsidize crop insurance, why can’t we subsidize health insurance?” he said.
Jeannie Brown of Belgrade has a 4-year-old granddaughter with disabilities who is on Medicare. She’s spent her savings and pension and expects to rely on Social Security in the future, and said that program shouldn’t be used “as a bargaining chip” in negotiations on the shutdown or the so-called debt ceiling — which Congress needs to raise if the nation is to avoid defaulting on its debts.
“Honestly, it’s the one program that keeps people from being destitute in their old age,” she said.
Marsha Schumacher of Great Falls said she stopped earning when she had to take care of a family member. Except for income from painting portraits, she relies on Social Security.
“It’s an important part of my income, as it is for many people,” She said.
Daines was in Washington on Tuesday. Spokeswoman Alee Lockman said Daines wants the shutdown to end as well, but believes President Barack Obama and the U.S. House and Senate need to come together to find a solution that provides fairness to Montanans in the context of the Affordable Care Act.
Lockman said Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have refused to negotiate to end the shutdown.
Asked whether Daines would support the “clean” resolution to end the shutdown, without any changes or delays to the Affordable Care Act, Lockman said such a vote has not yet come before the House.
“A solution has to come from the Senate and the House and the president coming together,” she said. “Unfortunately, that’s not happening.
On Social Security and Medicare, she left open the possibility of future cuts, saying Daines is committed to protecting the programs for current seniors and retirees, but also to ensuring the programs are there for future generations.
She said her office has not heard of Social Security cuts being part of the negotiations on the shutdown or debt ceiling discussion.
Rally participants called current and prospective members of Congress, seeking a commitment to preserve the programs.
One of the protestors reached a Daines staffer but did not gain the commitment sought.
A call to the office of U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, -D-Mont., by one of the protesters reached a recording that the office was unable to respond due to the government shutdown. Calls to Senate candidates Champ Edmunds, a Republican, and Dirk Adams, a Democrat, also reached only recordings, according to the callers.
Lockman said Daines has furloughed about half his congressional staff, with enough remaining to take calls from constituents. She said Daines’ top priority now is hearing from constituents about the shutdown and related issues.
“We really do welcome all Montanans to share their views,” she said. “The door’s open and the phones are on.”