How the shutdown is forcing Congress to cut back

The government shutdown now wrapping up its fourth day has forced lawmakers to cancel committee hearings, play tour guide for constituents, go without their catered hot lunches and to ration precious commodities.


Some of the final tourists to get in to the U.S. Capitol the normal way this week. (Post)

The scramble is on, especially at the House and Senate gyms, where trainers and attendants are on furlough, according to several lawmakers who frequent the facilities. Knowing they'd likely be temporarily out of a job within hours, House gym laundry staffers left behind about 250 cleaned and pressed towels. But lawmakers say they were mostly used up by Wednesday.

One senator, who asked not to be identified in order to candidly discuss locker room behavior, confirmed that several members are allowing their towels to air dry over locker doors.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), one of the gym’s most frequent visitors, said, “There’s no attendants, there’s no one there, but you can go in and use it if you want to. Just as you could jog outside."

Tourists kept coming to Capitol Hill this week, even though the multimillion dollar Capitol Visitors Center is closed to the general public. But constituents lucky enough to prearrange a visit with their lawmaker are permitted access.

Once inside, there are no red-coated tour guides to show them around, forcing some lawmakers and junior staffers to give tours. Many junior staffers and interns already escort visiting constituents, but many lawmakers – including Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) -- have been tagging along and holding court in front of some of the largest paintings adorning the Rotunda or the elaborate House and Senate staircases.

On Thursday, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) led a group of schoolchildren from the House to the Senate side, guiding them through the Rotunda and out to the Senate steps, where they earned a rare audience with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

While hundreds of lawmakers who have asked that their pay be withheld during the shutdown, their staffs are also being severely curtailed. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) has cut her 38-member staff to six; Barrasso said he temporarily slashed his staff in half. With so many staffers out of the office, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.) opted to take a few shifts answering the phones in his front lobby.

“Good morning, thank you for calling, Joe Manchin’s office,” he said during one round of calls Thursday morning. When the woman on the other end of the call said she wanted to leave a message for the senator, he said, “Go ahead and do it, he’s right here, I’ll listen to it -- this is me.”

Manchin has curtailed his 44-person staff to 13, with 11 on the job in Washington and just two back in West Virginia. Exasperated, he’s forced to sit around waiting while top leaders attempt to resolve the impasse.

“There’s some things I haven’t gotten through here, there’s some things I’m upset about – whether it’s Obamacare, or things that I think needs to be fixed, or repealed,” he said. “The Keystone pipeline, the new source performance standards they’ve done for coal. But I’m not going to hold the whole darn country hostage over that. I’m going to fight my fight where I need to fight.”

Manchin said he hadn’t noticed too many of the cutbacks on Capitol Hill – in part because, he admitted, he hadn’t been to the gym lately -- but other senators confirmed they are being served boxed sandwiches, a significant step-back from the usual catered meal of chicken, salmon or pasta, often served with steamed vegetables and orange sherbet for dessert.

With so many staffers furloughed for the shutdown, several committees have cancelled long-scheduled hearings.

A hearing scheduled last Tuesday to review the recent shooting at the Washington Navy Yard was postponed by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, while the House Judiciary Committee postponed five subcommittee meetings on issues ranging from regulatory reform to immigration policy and “The President’s Constitution Duty to Faithfully Execute the Laws.” The Senate Commerce Committee also cancelled a hearing to vote on five nominees to federal agencies.

This coming week, the Senate Armed Services Committee has already postponed a hearing scheduled for this coming Tuesday. The topic? How the military is adjusting to mandatory budget cuts.

Jackie Kucinich and Theresa Poulson contributed to this report.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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