Richmond Times-Dispatch: As shutdown looms, Va. leaders urge Congress to ‘get their act together’

RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, MICAHEL MARTZ

From Richmond north to the Northern Virginia suburbs and east to Hampton Roads, Virginia’s urban crescent could become a crucible of economic pain if Congress fails to avert a shutdown of the federal government by Saturday night.

Virginia is home to 140,397 civilian federal employees — the second-highest concentration in the country after California — and that does not include the Virginians who work at the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Those workers are counted as residents of Washington, D.C., in a new tally the Congressional Research Service released Thursday.

That count also does not include more than 126,000 active-duty members of the military who live in Virginia, which benefits from the highest level of defense spending in the U.S., or more than 162,000 spouses and dependents on military bases in the state. Nor does it reflect defense contractors who are crucial to the state’s economy and workforce.

Could the stakes be any higher for Virginia in what has become a familiar budget drama in Congress?

“I think Congress as a whole needs to get their act together,” said the Virginia General Assembly’s House Appropriations Chairman Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, who represents a defense-dependent area that would be among the hardest hit if the government shuts down at midnight on Saturday. Knight represents part of the 2nd Congressional District, with more than 34,000 civilian federal employees, not including active-duty military.

Richmond area

In the Richmond area, 18,846 civilian federal employees live in the 4th Congressional District, represented by Rep. Jennifer McClellan, D-4th, not including active-duty military at Fort Gregg-Adams (formerly Fort Lee) on the outskirts of Petersburg. An additional 20,120 civilian employees live in the 1st Congressional District, which includes parts of Chesterfield and Henrico counties. It is served by Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st.

“I don’t think government shutdowns are good,” said Wittman, whose district previously included more than 70,000 federal employees before it was redrawn in late 2021. “I’ve been through three government shutdowns. Never has there been a shutdown where I said, ‘That was the right thing to do.’“

In contrast, the 5th Congressional District, including a slice of Hanover County, is home to the fewest number of civilian federal employees in Virginia — 6,714, or about 1.87% of the local workforce. Rep. Bob Good, R-5th, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, represents the district.

Good insists on reductions in current federal spending and increased security on the U.S. southern border in return for a stopgap budget resolution or budget agreement to fund the government in the fiscal year that begins Sunday. House conservatives also have demanded an inquiry into the impeachment of President Joe Biden, a Democrat who is running for reelection next year.

“We should not fear a government shutdown,” Good said outside the U.S. Capitol last month. “Most of the American people won’t even miss it if the government is shut down temporarily.”

He clarified those remarks on Monday. “I never said that no one is hurt at all,” he said in an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Instead, Good said fear of a government shutdown is not reason enough to back down on demands for deep cuts in federal spending while bolstering security at the border. He contends that a shutdown would affect only about 15% of federal spending.

However, it could affect a major employer in his district, Lynchburg-based BWX Technologies Inc. The company is “a federal contractor with about 2,000 employees in Virginia and thousands more around the country, working on programs for a variety of federal agencies, both at sites we own and at sites where we provide management and operations services for the U.S. government,” spokesman Jud Simmons said Monday.

“Like other contractors, we are closely monitoring the budget situation and consulting with our customers in terms of possible impacts,” Simmons said. “Given that the national budget negotiations are ongoing, it would be premature for us to comment or speculate on specific impacts at our facilities in Virginia or elsewhere.”

Good said Monday that he would support a continuing resolution, or stopgap measure, to fund the government for an additional 30 days, but only at levels consistent with the House Republican position before Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., reached agreement with Biden and the Democratic-controlled Senate on the Fiscal Responsibility Act in late May to prevent a default on the national debt.

He said House Republicans would seek to reduce total spending by $64 billion from current levels in the budget, including four appropriations bills that will be introduced on Tuesday.

That approach is not likely to fly in the Senate, said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who does not expect the Senate to agree to spending levels below those included in the deal that Biden signed June 3.

“We’re not going to let the team that lost four months ago suddenly get their way,” Kaine said in an interview on Monday.

Instead, he said the Senate is moving to amend a House bill related to the Federal Aviation Administration as the legislative vehicle for a bipartisan budget agreement that he hopes the House can accept in time to prevent a shutdown.

“Particularly if they aren’t able to pass their own bill, we think a bipartisan bill coming from the Senate would be persuasive,” he said.

Kaine successfully negotiated an agreement in 2019 to ensure that federal employees would receive back pay for wages lost in a partial shutdown of the federal government for 35 days and in future shutdowns.

“It doesn’t protect contractors, and it doesn’t get people paid in a timely fashion,” he said.

Northern Virginia

The most federal employees in Virginia affected by a shutdown would be concentrated in the Northern Virginia suburbs, where Rep. Don Beyer, D-8th, represents a congressional district that is home to 72,872 employees, the most in any single district in the country outside of the nation’s capital itself, according to the new congressional survey.

Four congressional districts in Northern Virginia account for 226,473 civilian federal employees, followed by 83,846 civilian employees in three congressional districts in Hampton Roads.

The effects would travel south along Interstate 95, where 59,210 civilian federal employees live in the 7th Congressional District that extends from eastern Prince William County through Fredericksburg to Caroline County.

The district, including the U.S. Marine Corps Base at Quantico, is represented by Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, who met with local government officials and business leaders in Prince William earlier this month about the potential shutdown.

“Previous shutdowns have historically hurt the finances and job security of families across the Commonwealth — especially in Northern Virginia,” Spanberger said. “It’s not a case of ‘Chicken Little’ or ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf.’ It’s not a fairy tale. For thousands of Virginians, it’s reality.”

Ripple effects

The effects of a shutdown would be felt beyond federal employees and contractors, warned Stephen Farnsworth, director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg.

“We’re also talking about people who make money off those federal employees — people who sell them lunch, people who sell them gas,” Farnsworth said. “There are all kinds of people who make money off of federal employees if they’re working.”

Farnsworth said a federal government shutdown also could hurt Republican candidates for the General Assembly in crucial elections in November, including those in competitive races in the Fredericksburg area that could determine control of both the state Senate and House of Delegates. Early voting began Friday for all 140 seats in the assembly.

“If you’re a Democratic candidate for legislative office in Virginia, you have already benefited from the Republican circular firing squad on Capitol Hill,” he said. “If a shutdown does happen, that’s going to sink Republican candidates in suburban districts in Virginia.”

Gov. Glenn Youngkin is leading a well-financed Republican charge to take control of both chambers of the assembly, which currently is politically divided. He asked for patience at a rally last week, while acknowledging the anxiety of Virginians who would be affected by a shutdown.

“So let’s just see how these next nine days play out,” Youngkin said Thursday.

However the standoff ends, Kaine hopes to discourage future threats of government shutdowns with legislation that he and Beyer have introduced to automatically trigger stopgap spending measures at the end of the federal fiscal year while preventing Congress from acting on other work until it completes the budget.

That legislation will not pass in time to prevent a shutdown this weekend, but could be part of a final budget deal later this year, he said. “We’re tired of this.”

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