FRANKFORT — Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear offered sharp criticism of Congress, chiding the nation’s lawmakers for being out of touch with their constituents and for causing needless pain across the state through the ongoing federal shutdown.
Striking a populist tone, Beshear characterized national congressional leadership as acting “like a bunch of spoiled brats in a food fight,” and that they ought not to be paid while the government continues to be shut down for a 16th day.
“They need to act like adults, too,” he said. “We ought to quit paying them, and we ought to bring them all home.”
Beshear said that the compromise plan crafted Wednesday afternoon by Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada and Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky—a majority and minority leaders, respectively—“is simply going to kick the can down the road.”
“If history is any indication, we could well be in the exact same spot in three months when the deadlines roll around as we are right now,” Beshear said.
That compromise plan, which is currently being debated in the House, will reopen the federal government and raise the nation’s debt ceiling until Feb. 15, 2014.
Republicans included a provision in the compromise legislation that will increase scrutiny of the income for new enrollees of health insurance plans offered via state health care exchanges mandated by the Affordable Care Act. Beshear said that such a provision would be moot in Kentucky because the state’s insurance exchange, Kynect, already does so.
The governor also offered backhanded praise for McConnell’s role in crafting the compromise.
“I suppose we should be thankful that after about three months of being missing in action, that the senator has surfaced here in the last couple of days and has been participating and is helping to work some deal out,” Beshear said, adding that McConnell shouldn’t take any credit if a deal is reached.
“A firefighter shouldn’t be getting credit for helping put out a fire when he helped start the fire."
Beshear sent letters today to Kentucky’s congressional delegation informing them of the massive damage that a prolonged shutdown would have on the state’s most vulnerable citizens if the shutdown continues after Nov 1. He said he had not received a response from them.
Earlier: Gov. Steve Beshear has warned Kentuckians that many of the state's federally funded programs—ranging from the Ohio River Bridges Project to food stamps—are in jeopardy of losing funds and, in some cases, ending services altogether.
"Many families in Kentucky will be devastated if the federal government doesn't get its act together," Beshear said at a press conference today addressing the shutdown.
As Beshear spoke, Senate leaders were announcing that an bipartisan agreement had been reached that would restart the government, though Congress had yet to officially act on the deal.
In his comments, Beshear warned both Kentuckians and the federal government of the consequences of Congress not reaching an agreement that won't simply "kick the can down the road."
At times Beshear seemed angry while the shutdown, which he says has been the act of a "privileged few” lawmakers who have lost contact with those they serve.
"In a nation of plenty, in the wealthiest nation in the world, this should not happen," he says.
There's around $8 billion in federal funds that flow through Kentucky every year, Beshear says. Most money goes to programs that won't be affected from the shutdown like Medicaid, unemployment insurance benefits, and school lunch programs, Beshear said.
But Kentucky receives about $75 million a month that goes toward programs that could be affected, he said. Beshear notes there are around 50 programs in this "at-risk" category.
Among the programs that could be affected include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) helps 854,000 Kentuckians receive $110 million per month in food assistance. Unless the shutdown ends the program will run out of money Nov. 1, Beshear said.
- Federal Temporary Aid to Needy Families Program: serving 61,000 Kentuckians who receive around $15 million a month. This includes the Kentucky Transitional Assistance that provide short-term financial benefits for working adults or adult students to cover basic needs.
- Supplemental funding for Women Infant and Children (WIC): 130,000 pregnant mothers and young children get healthy food through WIC and receive around $10 million a month
- Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program: 304,000 Kentucky families receive around $8 million a month.
Some programs have already been impacted, Beshear says, including the delay of moving residents into a new Glascow state nursing facility.
"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," he says.
Also, some military veterans cannot get benefits, he says.
Further, Beshear warns that defaulting could increase interest rates on borrowing and therefore have a large impact on projects including the Ohio River Bridges Project.
"We're just getting ready to borrow millions of dollars to help build the Louisville Bridges Project. And if we default on that debt and that interest rate goes up they will have cost Kentuckians millions of additional dollars in interest on that project alone," he says.
Kentucky's healthcare exchange is not affected by the shutdown, he says.