According to Congressman Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin), Congress has been "taken hostage" by a handful of Republicans who want President Obama's signature healthcare program, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), defunded before a budget will be passed. The resulting shutdown of the government, he said, is harmful to the US economy and its citizens, and might keep the government from paying its bills on time.
About 125 people came out on relatively short notice to hear about what is happening in the nation's capital, and how Swalwell and his colleagues plan to end the shutdown. Swalwell decided to fly home for 24 hours because there were no votes Sunday and, "I wanted to update people on what is happening," he said. "We are getting so many calls, Facebook posts and Tweets. I felt it was good to come home."
Addressing some of his 15th Congressional District constituents at a town hall meeting Sunday in the Dublin City Council Chambers, Swalwell said the shutdown is costing the country an estimated $300 million a day and affecting more than just the federal workers and people who want to visit national parks or monuments.
But, Swalwell stated, the Affordable Care Act has to be taken off the table because, "Tying the Affordable Care Act to how you budget the federal government can set a bad precedent."
Seats in council chambers were filled by people concerned about what will happen on Oct. 18 if there is no increase in the debt ceiling, which is dependent on a funding bill being passed, and by residents who stand behind the group of Republicans who are demanding defunding of the ACA.
Some of the affected federal workers were also in the audience. Swalwell said some of the 2.1 million federal employees who are furloughed or forced to work without pay are his constituents, and they are telling him they are filing for unemployment and asking debtors such as mortgage companies to delay payment.
"But payments don't get furloughed," Swalwell said. "It's a stressful time for federal employees."
Swalwell pointed out the shutdown is also affecting veterans, first-time homebuyers and the Realtors who represent them, because the federal offices that provide documents and services are not being staffed.
"This effects real people," the Congressman said. "Our goal is to end the shutdown."
Other government shutdowns have occurred over how money was budgeted, not whether a program that has been signed into law will be defunded, or eliminated, Swalwell added. Allowing the ACA into the equation this time was set an "awful, awful precedent."
"The president is standing firm and the Senate is standing firm," Swalwell said. "They will negotiate budget numbers, but the Affordable Care Act is off the table."
One audience member, describing himself as a Republican who believes in the Constitution, said Harry Reid has recently called him and people like him "anarchists" and "extremists." He then questioned what the Founding Fathers would say about the Affordable Care Act, because to him it smacks of socialism.
"The Affordable Care Act is an overreach of the government," the audience member said. " I want my freedom back."
Swalwell replied: "My response is that our Founding Fathers would say that a candidate for presidential office told the American people what he wanted to do with healthcare and he was elected overwhelmingly. Then this candidate presented this plan to the Congress. The House of Representatives and the Senate passed it, that same president signed it into law, the Supreme Court -- with a majority opinion written by a Chief Justice appointed by a Republican -- said it was Constitutional. And then the same person who ran on it ran for reelection and again was overwhelming elected. I would say whether we agree with the policy of not, it adheres to the Constitution."
Addressing Congress last week, Swalwell asked House Speaker John Boehner to call for a vote. "The Speaker controls what you get to vote on," Swalwell explained before he played a video of his statement to Congress. "He puts it on the floor."
Boehner has not called for a vote citing the "Hastert Rule." Named for former Speaker Dennis Hastert, this informal rule says that legislation should have the support of a "majority of the majority" for the Speaker to call for a vote.
"It is a dark day today in America," Swalwell said in his statement to Congress. "Mr. Speaker, you can turn back on the lights. Turn on the lights Mr. Speaker."
To the audience Swalwell explained, "We know we have the votes we need for a budget that does not include the Affordable Care Act." However, he furthered, the Republicans led by Texas Senator Ted Cruz have dug in their heels and Boehner will not call for a vote.
"The Democrats see any attempt to change (the Affordable Care Act) as an attempt to unravel it, and Republicans just want to defund it," the Congressman said. "At some point Speaker Boehner needs to answer 'do you want to be Speaker of the Republican Caucus or Speaker of the whole House?'"
Easing the division among Republicans and Democrats is one goal Swalwell spoke about when he was campaigning less than a year ago. When he first took office he helped form the United Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group of 15 freshmen Republicans and 15 freshman Democrats. This group has been meeting regularly since the shutdown to discuss ways to bring it to an end.
"We need to find a bipartisan way out of this," he said.
In addition for asking for bipartisanship, many members of this caucus, including Swalwell, are putting their money where their mouths are -- literally -- and refusing their paychecks until the shutdown ends.
"I just didn't feel right taking my paycheck while others would be working and not getting theirs," Swalwell said.