|McALLEN, October 13 - Furious that the partial shutdown of the federal government included the National Monument that he wanted to visit, Texas Republican Representative Randy Neugebauer gained a degree of infamy when news cameras caught him berating a National Park Service employee.
Rep. Neugebauer snarled at the ranger, “You should be ashamed of yourself!”
The fact that she was doing her job without pay, while Representative Neugebauer continued to receive full pay and benefits, during a shutdown that he and other Tea Party Republicans engineered was apparently lost on him.
Egged on by Ted Cruz, Texas’ junior Senator and Tea Party darling, a cadre of House Republicans tried to hold the government hostage to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If the federal government were to provide healthcare for 30 million Americans who don’t currently have health insurance, he warned, they would become addicted to regular doctor’s visits and the notion that medical emergencies should not be followed by personal bankruptcy.
Government healthcare is one big socialist plot, and Ted and the Tea Party will do whatever it takes to save America from it.
Oddly enough the socialized medicine provided in the land of Ted Cruz’s birth – Canada – worked out just fine for his mother 42 years ago. And his father is happy to use a government run healthcare scheme called Medicare.
But really, this is not about the Affordable Care Act. Ted Cruz and Tea Partiers in the House imagine that they are just playing a game of chicken with President Obama. During an anti-Obamacare bus tour last August Cruz foreshadowed the shutdown, saying, “If you have an impasse, you know – one side or the other has to blink. How do we win this fight? Don’t blink.”
But governing the United States of America isn’t a game.
Federal employees like the Park Ranger that Representative Neugebauer insulted do important work on behalf of the American people. The shutdown has put that work on hold.
The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, has furloughed 94 percent of its employees. Industrial chemicals and pesticides are not being tested to ensure that they do not pose health risks, and the air pollution emitted by factories and power plants in communities across the country are no longer being monitored. In addition, according to an EPA employees union representative, “No one is going to be out inspecting water discharges or wetlands. Nobody is going to be out inspecting waste water treatment plants, drinking water treatment plants – nothing.”
Texans whose kids suffer from asthma, or who would rather not get dysentery from their tap water, might want to see those furloughed EPA inspectors back on the job.
Nationwide, 81 percent of the Department of the Interior’s staff were sent home. National Parks and Monuments from coast to coast where closed, which in addition to causing Representative Neugebauer to blow a gasket meant that ongoing efforts to preserve our nation’s natural and cultural heritage were put on hold.
In the Rio Grande Valley that meant 64 U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees, who work at the Santa Ana, Laguna Atascosa, and Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuges were furloughed.
Our South Texas refuges received 400,000 visits last year. Local businesses such as hotels and restaurants profit from birders and nature enthusiasts who come from all over the world, but now the refuges are turning away visitors just in time for the autumn bird and butterfly migrations.
Efforts to prevent the extinction of ocelots in the United States, and to ensure that projects like the proposed Space X rocket launch pad in Boca Chica comply with environmental laws, have been suspended.
The Congressional Republicans who caused the shutdown need to understand that the 64 South Texas refuge staff, as well as the thousands of Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal employees who have been barred from doing their jobs, are not nameless pawns whose lives can be disrupted just to score political points or get face time on FOX News. They are dedicated professionals who could be making higher salaries in the private sector, but who choose to work for federal agencies because they believe that protecting public health and saving endangered species is noble work.
Some in Congress appear to have abandoned the idea of public service, but they have not.
Ted Cruz, Randy Neugebauer, and the Tea Party Republicans who shut down the government and disrupted the lives of thousands of hard working Americans are the ones who should be ashamed.
It is time for Republicans to end this, and let the nation get back to work.
Scott Nicol chairs the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Team, and lives in McAllen, Texas. To learn more about the Borderlands Team, visit www.sierraclub.org/borderlands.