Despite an ongoing partial government shutdown, the offices of northwest Ohio’s two U.S. representatives were back up and running as of Thursday, though the staffs of U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown were still at about half-strength.
A difference between the two Ohio senators is that the Democrat, Mr. Brown, is making no effort to downplay the impact of the shutdown, while the Republican, Mr. Portman, is trying to maintain the constituent workload with half the staff.
A pop-up alert on Mr. Brown’s Web site reads, “Dear Constituents, Thank you for visiting my Web site. Unfortunately, due to the recent temporary lapse in government funding, my Senate office has been shut down.”
It goes on to say that offices will be minimally staffed, phones will not be answered, and emails sent to individual staff members will be responded to at the conclusion of the shutdown.
Meghan Dubyak, spokesman for Mr. Brown, said 40 percent of the staff members are working.
Only workers who are deemed essential to the elected official carrying out his Constitutional duties are being paid and are allowed to work, sources in the Senate told The Blade.
During a telephone conference call with reporters, Mr. Portman said his staff members were working and keeping up with constituent requests and also greeting visitors from Ohio.
“We are keeping our offices open, though we do have half our staff off on furlough. They're taking on more responsibility, serving our constituents, returning email, doing individual casework that has to be done,” Mr. Portman said.
Conservatives claim Democrats are going out of their way to make the shutdown as painful as possible to increase pressure on Republicans to pass a “clean resolution” to fund the government in fiscal year 2014 and which does not contain language to defund the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
A new Gallup poll showed the Republican Party is now viewed favorably by 28 percent of Americans, the lowest favorable rating for either party since Gallup began asking this question in 1992.
Mr. Portman called on President Obama to negotiate on a resolution, and said presidents in all previous shutdowns have negotiated with the opposite party in Congress to reach solutions.
“It’s unique that the President is not working with us to solve this problem. We need to look at the underlying problem. The American people agree with that by an overwhelming margin,” Mr. Portman said.
Steve Fought, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Ohio), said, “Marcy has retained all her staff in Washington and in the district, and we have been working to help people that have issues with the Veterans Administration and Social Security and other aspects of the federal government."
He said the full staffing started on the first day of the shutdown, and that House members were given the discretion to decide who in their office was essential to the legislative function.
Laura Strange, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R. Bowling Green), said the office’s normal full-time staffing level of five in the 5th Congressional District and seven in the Washington office, with one part-time employee, was initially reduced to five employees.
The office then switched to a “rolling furlough” which allowed as many as three in the district and six in Washington to work. The office got back to full staff on Oct. 9.