By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
FRANKFORT — Kentucky’s Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell apparently worked out a deal with Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, on Wednesday to end the federal government shutdown.
That deal couldn’t come soon enough, according to a visibly frustrated Kentucky Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, who pilloried national lawmakers for allowing the shutdown which he said has been “devastating to Kentucky families.”
“Hopefully, we will have a deal today,” Beshear told reporters after listing examples of the damage done by the shutdown, including the new Glasgow Nursing Facility. which sits empty just yards from the aging, unsafe facility it was to replace.
Beshear said the new facility can’t open because it can’t get a federal inspection which should take no more than two or three days. Instead, the shiny new facility designed to serve severely handicapped individuals sits empty just a few yards from the windows where 74 patients are housed in a crumbling, out-of-date building.
“We built it to improve care for our aged and infirm folks with behavioral disabilities,” Beshear said. “Everything is ready. The patients and their families are ready for the move from the old facility. The problem is we can’t get final license approval because federal offices have been closed.”
Beshear said he was “mad and disgusted” with the squabbling in Washington, and he didn’t hold back in his criticism when it came to McConnell.
If a deal is finalized in Washington, Beshear said, “I suppose we should be thankful that, after about three months of being missing in action, that the senator has surfaced in the last couple of days and has been participating and is helping to work some deal out.”
McConnell, the Republican Minority Leader in the Senate, has often been at the center of negotiations between the two parties and the White House. But he faces a primary challenge from tea party candidate Matt Bevin who has criticized McConnell for not standing up strongly enough against the Affordable Care Act and federal spending.
But after the Republican House of Representatives failed in several attempts to craft an acceptable compromise, McConnell and Reid negotiated a last-minute deal which was scheduled for votes late Wednesday to re-open the government and extend the federal debt limit to avoid a national default on Thursday.
Beshear said too many “of our congressional representatives are still posturing and pontificating through another day of negotiations” in the 16th day of the shutdown. “Too many of our leaders in Washington are too insulated from the lives of real families that they don’t understand the urgency of the moment.”
“They’ve lost track of the people they serve,” Beshear continued. “Its repercussions involve suffering, frustration and despair.”
He said despite the hopeful signs of a deal Wednesday, publicly disclosed details indicate it “just kicks the can down the road,” funding the government until mid-January and extending the debt limit until Feb. 7.
“We could well be in the exact same spot in three months, when the deadlines roll around, as we are right now,” Beshear said, adding the people of Kentucky and their Washington representatives “need to understand the impact (of a shutdown) on the people of this state.”
He said roughly $8 billion in federal aid comes to Kentucky each year, and about 85 percent of that is affected by the shutdown. While such benefits as Medicaid and unemployment insurance aren’t affected, programs like SNAP — the food stamp program — nutritional services for pregnant mothers and young children serving 130,000 Kentucky residents and payment assistance for low-income families’ utility bills are all at stake.
About 854,000 Kentucky residents receive food stamp assistance, about one in five residents. SNAP enables “them to have food to eat. A lot of our friends and neighbors — and their children — could go hungry. That’s not alarmist, it’s heartbreaking and it’s unconscionable. In a nation of plenty, in the wealthiest nation in the world, this should not happen,” Beshear said.
Daycare assistance for working poor families equaling about $8 million a month would be cut off to 40,000 Kentucky children and some new veterans’ benefits applications can’t be submitted because the Kentucky Department of Veterans’ Affairs can’t gain access to the veterans’ information.
Other programs which could be put at risk in an extended shutdown, Beshear said, are child abuse prevention grants, immunizations, HIV prevention programs and regulation of coal mines. But he said Kynect, the Kentucky-run health benefit exchange, hasn’t been affected.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.