Congressman Derek Kilmer fielded more than a dozen questions, most centered on the federal government shutdown, during an hour-long telephone town hall meeting with residents of the 6th Congressional District Wednesday night.
Kilmer says he’s doing what he can, but pointed the blame squarely on House Republican leadership for refusing to budge on budget negotiations. He noted he’s joined Republicans and Democrats alike in two different caucuses to try and work out their differences.
He’s also opted not to be paid during the shutdown, noting he didn’t feel comfortable being given a salary when Congress is refusing to do its job.
“There’s not a lot of sugar coating here,” Kilmer told constituents listening in. “Congress is certainly earning its low approval rating this week.”
He noted that thousands of constituents in the region have been furloughed from the Naval shipyard in Bremerton, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Olympic National Park and other federal agencies.
“I am appalled at this shutdown because it affects so many families and the economy of this state,” a woman named Christine from Gig Harbor told Kilmer.
“Congress needs to stop governing by self-imposed crisis,” Kilmer replied. “We’ve gone from a fiscal cliff to a fiscal mountain range where we’re going from crisis to crisis. We need Congress to pass a real budget…. Keeping government open is one of our fundamental jobs. I didn’t come here to Washington to shut down government. I came here to fix it.”
The wife of a Naval shipyard worker implored Kilmer “to work with Congress to get this solved quickly.”
“Nationwide, we will see close to 1 million workers furloughed and federal workers should not be held responsible for Congress’ inability to pass a budget,” Kilmer replied.
“Anyone out on the Olympic Peninsula listening knows how important the national parks are to our attraction of tourists,” Kilmer added later. “The inaction of Congress has been very, very damaging to this economy. Congress ought to be focusing on the economy.”
Noting that China is focusing on improving its education and workforce, Kilmer said, “We are competing with other countries that, frankly, want to eat our lunch.”
One resident challenged Kilmer to say what he had done personally to help fix the shutdown.
Kilmer repeated that he continued to meet with Republicans in joint caucuses aiming for bipartisan cooperation.
“Part of my approach is trying to lead by example,” he said. “That’s why I gave up some of my pay.”
Responding to another question, Kilmer said he is worried about the impact the shutdown is having on homeland security.
“There are certainly concerns in that domain,” he said. “Approximately 72 percent in the intelligence community have been furloughed… Security for those oversees have been impacted. There have been delays and will be delays in technology upgrades to address things like cyber attacks because people have been sent home and a pause has been put on things like the shutdown. Federal law enforcement training has been curtailed. I wish I could tell you that is one of those areas that isn’t going to be impacted but the fact is it’s going to be impacted and that’s part of the reason Congress needs to end this shutdown. I do want to mention one thing. Thankfully, troops will be paid during this government shutdown.”
OFFICE HOURS EXTENDED
Congressman Kilmer’s offices in Tacoma and Bremerton will be open to conduct casework and provide assistance to constituents who may be negatively impacted until 7 p.m. for the duration of a government shutdown. Should the government shutdown extend to the weekend, Kilmer’s office will announce extended weekend office hours at a later date. Constituents with any questions should call Kilmer’s offices in Tacoma at (253) 272-3515, in Bremerton at (360) 373-9725, or in Port Angeles at (360) 797-3623.