Federal workers relieved to head back to work

Smoky Bear stands guard in the darkened office behind the sign explaining why the U.S. Forest Service Manistee Ranger Station was closed on Thursday. According to Jim Thompson, district ranger, the office will reopen at 9 a.m. today. (Dave Yarnell/News Advocate)

Smoky Bear stands guard in the darkened office behind the sign explaining why the U.S. Forest Service Manistee Ranger Station was closed on Thursday. According to Jim Thompson, district ranger, the office will reopen at 9 a.m. today. (Dave Yarnell/News Advocate)

WASHINTON — Federal employees and contractors began returning to their government jobs Thursday, as the partial federal shutdown — and the two-week long furloughs it forced — officially came to an end.

President Barack Obama signed the bill early Thursday, and although the White House told federal employees to expect to return to work in morning, the U.S. Forest Service office on Red Apple Road in Manistee remained closed Thursday.

“We’ll be opening for business with the public at 9 a.m. (today),” said Jim Thompson, district ranger for the Cadillac/Manistee Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service. “It’s been unfortunate that the government has been shut down, and we haven’t been able to provide the services that we normally do for the public.”

Thompson said he and three firefighters remained on duty during the shutdown. Each day he noticed people surprised that the doors were locked.

“We’ve had people — not a lot of people — stop by the office and find out we’re closed,” Thompson said. “Some of them might not have realized that the government was closed or maybe they didn’t think the closure impacted the Forest Service.”

Thompson is pleased to see the shutdown end.

“It’s good to be able to bring everyone back to work and open the office and get business back to normal,” he said.

At the Manistee Armory, Staff Sgt. Tim Arnold, armory manager, said the local Michigan Army National Guard Bravo Troop had to cancel drills scheduled for Oct. 4 and 5. He added that it’s not clear if the drills scheduled for early November will be held.

“We’re waiting on the state to make sure the money is there,” Arnold said. “If not, they will be pushed back to November. That’s all we’ve been told so far.”

The nation stepped back from the brink of default Wednesday as Congress approved a bill to reopen the federal government and raise the debt ceiling.

The Senate approved the proposal crafted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on an 81-18 vote Wednesday night. Twenty-seven Republicans joined Democrats in backing the bill. About two hours later, the measure moved to the House of Representatives, where it was approved 285-144. Eighty-seven Republicans joined 198 Democrats in voting yes. All 144 no votes were Republicans.

“We fought the good fight. We just didn’t win,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said hours before the vote.

Throughout a 16-day partial government shutdown, U.S. House Republicans remained largely united in their efforts demanding that President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform law be defunded or delayed as a condition of putting furloughed workers back on the job.

With a potential default coming as soon as Thursday, however, unless the debt limit was increased, that unified front went out the window.

The House’s 285-144 vote reopening government and raising the debt limit late Wednesday showed Democrats banding together in favor and 87 Republicans joining them. In Michigan’s 14-member House delegation, the outcome was much the same: All five Democrats voted for the bipartisan deal brokered in the U.S. Senate; four of the state’s nine Republicans — three of them with ties to House GOP leadership — went along, too.

“I voted for the bill because it will reopen the government and prevent the country from defaulting on its debt,” said U.S. Rep. Dave Camp of Midland, Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “But this is a missed opportunity to address the underlying problems— a weak economy and a staggering amount of debt.”

In the end, however, House Republicans who allowed the government to shut down absent the president and Senate Democrats’ willingness to put implementation of the Affordable Care Act back on the table, got little — if anything — for a shutdown that may have weakened the nation’s standing in the world and slowed economic growth in the country.

Not all had been silent: U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Howell, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said two weeks ago as the shutdown began that he had deep-seated reservations about the GOP strategy.

Closing down government over the Affordable Care Act, he said, put Republicans in a position of trying to win a concession Democrats would not part with, while changing the national conversation from the health care bill’s flaws to the plight of workers sent home and government services being shut down.

Appearing again Wednesday on former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s syndicated radio show, Rogers said: “Hopefully we have learned by this that there is a better way to get what we need to have accomplished. … You have to be patient and you have to be actually willing to talk to the other side.”

He, along with Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph and Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, wound up supporting the deal, first approved in the Senate. Like Rogers, they said they would continue to fight to cut spending and replace the Affordable Care Act — only not at the risk of defaulting on the nation’s debt and sinking financial markets and savings.

“While this bill isn’t perfect, I believe it’s in the best interest of hard-working citizens in Northern Michigan,” Benishek said. “I know people are frustrated with what has happened. So am I.”

While Democrats were unified in their support of the bill, some House Republicans from Michigan found they couldn’t support it, even with the threat — expressed not only by the Obama administration, but business leaders across the country and globally — that without a hike in the debt ceiling, the nation would default on its debts.

GOP Reps. Justin Amash of Cascade Township, Kerry Bentivolio of Milford, Bill Huizenga of Zeeland, Candice Miller of Harrison Township and Tim Walberg of Tipton voted against it.

“I could not support a solution that did not provide fairness for the American people under Obamacare and that also failed to take real action to deal with our nation’s long-term debt and deficit,” Miller said.

Most kept their decisions quiet until the vote. Of those against it, only Bentivolio spoke up, through his spokesman, Matt Chisholm.

“Tens of thousands of Michiganders are being hurt by Obamacare, and Kerry was sent to stop it,” ” Chisholm said.

News Advocate staff writer Dave Yarnell contributed to this article.

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Posted by Dave Yarnell

Dave was formerly the News Advocate features writer and retired in November 2013.

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